Excerpt for Oklahoma! Hex by , available in its entirety at Smashwords








Table of Contents


Dedication

Surprise Bonus

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Author Note

Wikipedia Synopsis of Oklahoma!

Reader’s Guide

Gratitudes

About Susan Corso

Connect with Susan Corso

Sneak Preview of Brigadoon Moon

Surprise Bonus—



Mex’s

Divine Right Partner

Wish List


So, Spirit, you know and I know that I’m in search of my Divine Right Partner at last. I’m willing to be a full partner to her. Here’s my wish list.



I’m singing, “Some Day My Butch Will Come,” in anticipation of the gratitude I’ll feel.

Chapter 1



First things first. As rules go, it’s a good one. I have perfected the art of waking in total stillness. Without this ability, I would never, but never, have one moment of mush (rhymes with push) time. Morning is my time for me to, you know, snooze, snuggle, muse, think, fly around, ponder, tune in, figure out. I like my mornings the way I like them. My longest-time companions, Prudence and Money, hold, shall we say, a dissenting opinion.

One exhale and all bets are off. They know, and I know that they know, and they know that I know that they know, I’m awake. “Awake” has an over-riding feline translation in my household. It means, Breakfast, now! The slightest eyelash flutter denotes awake, hence the developed ability to waken and be still.

Up, up, Mommy, up, up, up, now! The next tactic is usually a parade—on my bladder. In the morning, that will get me out of bed like no other thing. I’m up, I’m going. Loo first, then the kitchen isn’t far. Just down the hallway of my abode with the wall-to-wall pink carpet; it makes the white walls glow. Both girls have their own specified dishes. Miss Prue prefers all things rhinestone; the ones on her kitty dish are pink. Money is a whole lot more rough-and-tumble than Prudence; her dish is black ceramic with her name hand-painted in green. When I graduated from college, I bought into the collective belief that apartments in New York City are hard to find. I found one, and I’ve stayed for almost twenty years.

My bedroom window faces north in my eleventh-floor, two-bedroom apartment in the U-shaped building in Midtown that I call home. Oblique light patterns skim through the always partially akimbo blinds over the objects on my built-in corner desk altar. I almost always have a fresh flower in a crystal bud vase, pictures of various avatars, meaningful rocks—you know the kinds of things I mean. It’s the only place that’s consistently spotless in my apartment. Maybe it’s because I spend time in front of it every day. Or I do when I remember. My granny used to say, “Dahlink, you don’t have to dust, just blow hard as you pass by.” My housekeeper Adeline dusts my altar. I blow hard.

Kitchen, living room and office are the same room. The kitchen is one wall of the living room. In this order, a small fridge (white), the tiniest gas stove you’ve ever seen (avocado), a counter (faux butcher-block) big enough for two cat dishes and a drainer, followed by a stainless steel sink. I don’t, as a rule, do kitchen.

Which is why, after I scampered through the shower, stroked on the requisite mascara—the minimum makeup required to leave the house—junked my disobedient cloud of red curls on the top of my head, and put on my uniform (more later), I headed out the door to the deli at 50th Street and Broadway to get a cup of coffee. Not regular. Regular in the language of New York City means coffee with a lot of half-and-half and a lot of sugar. I prefer my coffee with hazelnut cream, which I have delivered from the Red Apple grocery.

As I held the brown bag of steaming brew, wondering why I ever let them put it in a bag since I only have to throw them out when I get home, I turned my focus to the newsstand outside the deli to get The Times. I almost always go out to buy the paper though I could have it delivered to my door. Moving my body is as much a part of spiritual practice as meditation.

I was pretty tired. I’d been out till the wee hours sitting on a cheating spouse in the pouring rain on the back side of the Port Authority. The Variety headline caught my eye as I handed my change through the Plexiglas window. It said, “B’way Tragedy: ‘Pore’ Jud IS Dead.” I felt a surge of annoyance. Will they go to any lengths to pan a show? The hell with them.

Heck, Mex.

Sorry, Spirit. Heck.

Just then a taxi decided to douse me generously with God only knew what . . . (In another life, I would have sworn a blue streak.)

You would have. And no, you don’t want to.

With gutter detritus and rainwater now splashed on my clothes, my pager went off full decibel. I’d meant to set it to vibrate. I was on the slow program that morning, needing to ease into my day. Splash and page had not been in my original plan.

I suppose I ought to explain about Spirit. She’s the energy that qualifies me as an intuitive investigator and she also guides my life—when I let her. Spirit is my name for her. Everyone has an unadulterated center within themselves that knows. I call mine Spirit, but Harold or Hephzibah would work just as easily. There’s more; you’ll see as we go along. Oh yeah, one more thing. I sacrificed swearing for Lent one year, and Spirit has become relentless about it. Don’t ask.

You could ask, if you wanted to. The point is that swearing is gratuitous. Can you imagine me using curse words? I know you’re thinking, But there are angry gods! Hear my answer well, Beloved: Only if you think so.

I turned toward home and I disagreed with Variety. I’d seen this version of Oklahoma! I’m friends with one of the producers, and I went to college for one semester with the guy who controls the rights to the vast Rodgers and Hammerstein intellectual real estate. There’s a gig for you. He always says, “How much pressure can there be? The bosses are dead.” He has a point. Did you know that there is never a day on earth when a production of Oklahoma! isn’t being done somewhere?

Back to my pager, I checked the number. The truth is, I barely recognize my own number. It’s a total waste of brain space to keep telephone numbers in my head when they can be had in all sorts of places other than there. Oh, I retain some, but only the ones I want to retain.

Let me be clear about this pager, please. I know they seem outdated to most people. I carry one in my purse only in deference to my clients. I don’t believe in pagers, or in cellphones. Having a pager makes my clients think they can reach me whenever they want which is why I do it. I practice defensive pager. They can’t talk to it directly. They get to call me, they get to punch in the number, and then they get to wait.

Speaking of clients, I want you to know that Mex Stone works only by referral, and that no, Mex is not the whole of my name. The whole damn thing is Mexicali Rose Stone. Mama was a cabaret singer, and for some reason unbeknownst to any but the gods, she chose Mexicali Rose as her signature song. It’s a tacky old lament made famous in the 1930s by none other than that singing cowboy Gene Autry.

The bucolic October Saturday of my birth she plunked all those syllables down on me. If you were named Mexicali Rose Stone, be honest, would you let anyone call you that? Some questions are genuinely rhetorical. So. You can call me Mex. Get it? Got it? Good.

I had to change. My clothes were covered in oily splotches that smelled of something like what I thought might be Freon. My eyes were watering. No importa. I quit being irritated at things like this years ago. There’s plenty to be upset about in our world without taking on the minutiae. This is part of my commitment to God. If it weren’t for God . . . I’ll get to that.

Yes, do get to that please, as soon as you can. Postponement explains much of the difficulty you experience in your world. Now, Beloved, is the only time. Now or now or now or now. It’s your only choice.

I almost always wear the same thing on a workday, which, since I traded alcoholism for workaholism, is nearly every day. It’s standard drag, a uniform, if you will. A short, slim black skirt; it’s a custom copy of a Chanel, a white silk or cotton shirt, a brilliant, jewel-colored jacket either with a scarf or an interesting lapel pin. It makes deciding easy. The deciding thing, not always so easy for a Libra.

My pager would have to wait till I got home. What was five minutes?

Home is on the south side of 49th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. It’s on the periphery of the theatre district. Almost too far north and almost too far east, but I click with the theatre, and easy access geographically makes for easy access to the artform. When I was a kid, I was dead certain that I’d be an actress. I am, just not on the stage, Mrs. Worthington.

Home at last, after I changed, I stared out the south-facing living room/office/kitchen windows from my vantage point high above street level. You can see the ball fall from my window on New Year’s Eve. If you’ve heard the din that comes from Times Square on New Year’s Eve, you’d also be right where I always am on that over-rated occasion. At home.

There is a vest-pocket park between my building and the McGraw-Hill Building with a waterfall fountain. It makes for excellent white noise and goes with my penchant—no, that trivializes it, need is better—for silence. It is only in silence that I can hear the voice of my own spirit, the God/dess Within.

I realize that Midtown doesn’t really qualify as a residential neighborhood, but what would be the point of moving? It’s convenient. Quiet. I work out of the living room for tax purposes. It’s the biggest room, so I can take off more on my taxes. Sometimes I think I live my life for that accountant. There is a box full of receipts and … I take it to him every year. Richie says I’m the only one. What do other people do with their accountants? My box comes back to me empty with a folder bearing filled-out tax forms. What he does with the bits of paper, I don’t know. Suits me just fine. Taxes are like phone numbers—numbers.

I retrieved the number from my pager and punched it into the phone. Five minutes, in this case, was quite enough. I no longer dial. I broke down a few years ago and got a touchtone phone. I am hi-tech.

Ha!

The exchange was Gramercy. I know because my granny used to have a GR phone number. The first phone number I knew by heart. GR7-7877. I always thought it meant GRanny 7. When I became an adult, I learned that telephone prefixes were connected with neighborhoods. Imagine my disillusionment. My birthday was a national holiday too until some calendar wise guy decided that Columbus Day ought always to be a Monday.

Before I opened my mouth to say the standard, “This is Mex Stone, you paged me,” a breathy female voice came through the phone, “Mex, where have you been?” And promptly began to sob. Sobbing women are not my thing, unless I am doing the sobbing. I waited. Silent. I had no clue as to who this could be.

“Mex, it’s me.” This might be my least favorite telephone habit. If I wait long enough, they always tell me. “It’s me, Charlotte. Something terrible has happened.”

Charlotte is my friend who is one of the producers on Oklahoma! She’s the one who offered me free tickets during previews. It’s a phenomenon called papering the house. Producers do it to gauge audience response and to get a buzz going. To get in, you have to know someone. In this case, I did.

“Apparently,” I said. Then I waited some more.

“Mex, have you seen the paper?”

Shit, I’d left it at the newsstand. “No.”

“It’s everywhere. I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

I have an allergy to conversations with no nouns. “Charlotte, what is it in that sentence?”

“The news about Jud. He’s dead.” The sobbing continued.

This woman was crying over a bad review in Variety? Not a good motive to page me.

Charlotte was a fling from long, long ago. She was a lovely woman if you don’t mind rich girl dilettantes. Charlotte was given a bit to Dramatics; she was, after all, in The Theatre.

“Charlotte, get a hold of yourself and tell me exactly what has happened.” Fortunately for me, she recognized the tone and was at once in control and all business.

“Mex, I need your help.”

“Alright. With what?”

“Mex,” her voice dropped to a whisper, “Jud really is dead.”

“You mean the actor? I’m sorry.”

“Dammit, not just dead! Dead in the theatre, onstage, in the middle of the first act!”

“Heart attack?”

“At twenty-seven?”

“Charlotte, honey, what are you implying?”

She nearly jumped into my ear. Charlotte is high-wire tense a lot of the time. “I am not implying anything. Do I have to spell it out for you? Where were you last night?”

“Working, although it’s none of your business.”

“Mex, I tried to call you when they called me from the theatre around midnight.”

This slightly accusatory energy of Charlotte’s was familiar. Perhaps that’s why we had no future. Some of our time together was sweet. Charlotte is a blonde. After her, I went off blondes.

“And?” I prompted her.

“Darling,” she slipped into theatre-ese, “Jud, or the actor who was Jud, was murdered.”

“How do you know?”

“I just know.”

Good enough for me. “Are the Blues on it?” The Blues is my name for New York’s Finest a.k.a. The NYPD.

“Yes, but I told my partners I’d get The Best in the Business. Darling, listen, everyone is totally jangled. You know as well as I do that the show must go on. It’s a sellout, you know. Will you take the case?”

She’s already told everyone I will. “Sure, honey. Do you know . . . is Kelley the Blue in charge?”

I know my precinct cops. I have to.

“I think so.”

“It’s 7:37. I’ll get back to you sometime this afternoon.”

Well, well, weren’t no bright golden haze on the meadow this day and Oklahoma! was definitely not O.K.

I went back down in the elevator, and walked in unseeing silence to 50th Street. The turbaned man in the window handed me The Times without speaking. Time to get more of the facts.


Chapter 2


“Kelley.”

I returned the favor. “Mex.”

“Mexy.” He’s one of the few who gets away with this.

“Michael.” It’s an old ritual; everyone else calls him Mike.

“What can I do for you?”

“Is it time for coffee?”

We use it as a metaphor. He quit years ago when his doctor gave him a choice between coffee and a working stomach. “Always.”

“The Cosmic in fifteen. Bye, Michael.”

So much for my morning my way. I freshened my lipstick, grabbed my Longchamps black leather purse and went back down in the elevator. Walking uptown on Broadway on that almost spring day, I prayed: God, help us with this case. Amen.

Sergeant Michael Ryan Kelley is my absolutely favorite Blue. He’s a classic. A career cop. He loves his God, his wife, his kids, his grandkids and his work, in that order, and he’s clear about it. Bless him, he’s been offered promotion after promotion and he keeps turning them down to stay in the trenches where the real action is.

No matter what time it is, the Cosmic Diner on Seventh Avenue is a jumpin’ joint. All kinds of folks make their homes away from home there. Working girls, working boys, panhandlers, homeless folk, it is a Midtown hangout for those on the street.

As the March wind gusted me through the outer door, I spotted a cabal of working girls. They have a soft spot for me, and I for them. Once upon a time, when I was just getting into the investigating racket, nearly fifteen years ago, they hired me to get a john who was making their lives miserable. I got him. Their unofficial ringleader lives in my building. She blew me a kiss.

“Chastity.” Chastity is the smartest of the bunch. Her mother didn’t name her that either. She likes the joke.

As sweet as a camellia blossom, she drawled, “Kelley’s in the back, Mex.”

How did she know? “Thanks, Chas.”

“Any time, dawlin’, a-n-y time.” Chas once told me she does what she does for a living because she likes it. No one should do otherwise. Besides, she was a dead ringer for Demi Moore albeit with a lot more padding. Southern comfort.

“Michael,” I began again.

“Mex.”

Lois, a Cosmic Institution, arrived unannounced with coffee for me and a pitcher of half-and-half. I swear all those television waitresses are based on Lois. She’s got a heart of gold despite the hideous costume she has to don every day.

“What, no hazelnut cream?”

“Count your blessings, dear. I didn’t bring you those wretched little containers, did I?”

“No, you didn’t. Thanks. And I do.”

“Do what?” her gum-snapping reply, as she wrote our bill on her standard-issue pad.

“Count my blessings,” I teased. Kelley chuckled.

“Mex!” Lois chortled, slapped my shoulder and returned to her Cosmic whirlwind.

“Mexy,” Kelley got right down to it, “you sounded pretty solemn on the phone. What can I do ya for?” Classic copspeak.

“Charlotte called me.”

“Okay.” Kelley never gives anything away.

He had no clue about Charlotte. “She’s one of the producers of Oklahoma! ” He waited. “Michael, do I have to say more?”

“That depends.”

“On what?”

“On your status.”

“The producers have hired me.”

“To what?”

“Sergeant Kelley, allow me to introduce myself. How remiss you must think me!” Extending my always beautifully French-manicured hand, I said, “My name is Mex Stone and I am an investigator. Michael, what do think they hired me for? The role?”

Kelley lost it then, and the Dance was done.

“Mexy, here’s what I know. The kid dropped dead in the middle of the first act last night. No one knows anything, and no one’s talkin’. There’s suspicion of foul play. The M. E. is workin’ on it. I talked with most of the actors last night. They were pretty shook, you can imagine. No one is squirrelly, but I got a feeling . . . .”

“A feeling.”

“Yeah. Thirty-one years on the job and you can smell it. Something’s not . . . kosher.”

For a nice Irish Catholic boy born and raised in the Bronx, not kosher fit. “Michael, you found nothing amiss?”

“Aw, for Chrissake, Mexy, ‘you found nothing amiss,’ like you’re takin’ tea with the ladies at the Plaza.”

My eternally operational mind jumped to the Palm Court at the Plaza Hotel, one of my favorite places in town. Quite a few ladies, well, um, not ladies exactly, perhaps women is better, have taken me to tea at the Palm Court. It works for me. Kelley wouldn’t know a scone if it bit him on the foot.

“It’s me, Mexy, Kelley. Sergeant Kelley? Naw, nothin’ smells obvious, but somethin’ stinks, ya know what I mean?”

“Yes. I know what you mean.” It drives Kelley absolutely bonkers that I respond to this phrase, which to his mind requires no response. He threw me a look. I glittered at him.

“Do you want to work together or separately on this one?”

I always had to check this out at the top of a case, every case, regulations being what they are. Since my primary client is the Blues, it’s a good policy. It’s pretty rare for a solo like me to be called in at this stage of the game. I had to thank Charlotte for the referral. I was just grateful I got Kelley this time and not those book-throwers from the 19th Precinct. I’d have been ticked off from the get-go with those Upper East Side guys.

“Apart. With reconnaissance.”

That meant we shared, and if we duplicated our efforts, so what?

“Alright. I’ll be in touch.”

I sailed out of the Cosmic and past the girls before Chas could straighten the garter around her generous creamy thigh. Kelley, or rather New York’s Finest, always pays for our coffee, which he doesn’t drink.


Chapter 3


A tremendous feeling of urgency grabbed me in the solar plexus. I had to act quickly. Move, Mex, was in my every cell.

I’ve learned cellular listening over the years. It’s one of the ways Spirit speaks to me. Whoever this perpetrator was, my mission was to stop said whomever cold. I needed to go to the theatre. I put on my longest stride, let the March wind screech through my tumbling-down hair, and hot-footed it downtown.

The St. James Theatre on 44th Street is my favorite. It’s a great theatre for a great musical like Oklahoma! The very first production of this American classic opened at the St. James. My goal was the stage door. This was how we came in the other night, when Charlotte brought me to see the show. It’s through a metal gate, and down a spacious alley.

I’d known the doorman at the St. James as long as I’d known Lois from the Cosmic. He, like Lois, is an Institution. Everyone calls him The Mayor. I thought it apt. He was the mayor of 44th Street, and like all small-time bureaucrats, he knew everything going on in his fiefdom. He was shaped a lot like the Mayor of Munchkinland with a comb-over to rival the Donald’s. The Mayor was a resource par excellence. Kelley had spoken to the most obvious people, the actors, but not to the folk who were most likely to be in the know.

In The Mayor’s customary spot, a small office just inside the stage door, sat a greasy-looking kid who was decidedly uncomfortable. “Where’s The Mayor?” I asked, smoothing my hair into some semblance of order.

“Ountknow.”

I thought this might be code. “I beg your pardon?”

He peered at me then and from under his partially shaved, partially too long hair, I got an eyeful. He had a startling, multicolored snake tattoo winding up his neck to his peach-fuzzed cheek, which was peppered with a pierced nose, lip and eyebrow. I guessed him at fifteen max.

“I said,” he spoke again, “I don’t know.”

Could’ve fooled me. “Is he expected back?”

“I guess so.”

I was nowhere. I couldn’t go into the theatre without permission, and The Mayor’s permission slip was beyond query. I stopped and prayed silently.

Spirit?

Her comeback? A very red-eyed Myrna walked through the stage door, burst into tears at the sight of me, and threw her arms around my neck.

Myrna was a little fluff from my past as well. Charlotte was the one who introduced us. Myrna had been married to an electrician, who ran off on her. Then she switched buses. I think she was already back on the bus with another electrician. Something about sparks.

The pierced wunderkind blinked. Twice. Slowly.

Myrna Genovese is an old-time Broadway wardrobe mistress. Her mother, Myra, was one, too. Her grandmother, Magdalena, had been one. Her daughter, Marlene, if she graduates from high school, will be one. Wardrobe runs in the family. More accurately, the wardrobe union, Local 764, likes to keep it in the family.

“Myrna,” I extricated myself from her grasp.

“Oh, Mex, isn’t it awful?”

This was a rhetorical question. Awful depends upon the eyes of the beholder. It’s not mine to judge. Believe me, I’m still learning this the hard way.

All of you are learning this. It’s one of the most important un-learnings. For the record, most of what you call “learning” is un-learning.

So, awful for the kid and probably awful for his family, and not so awful for me, because it paid my bills. Not that I need it. Furthermore, we can’t fully understand the mystery of the soul. Not our own nor that of anyone else.

Mascara streaked down Myrna’s round face. Bless her.

“Myrna,” I said, “is there somewhere we can talk?”

“Downstairs.”

I turned to the young man at The Mayor’s desk. “When The Mayor returns, will you tell him Mex Stone would like to see him, please?”

I handed the would-be senator my card. Its mouth dropped. “Intuitive investigator?”

This did not warrant a reply.

Myrna and I descended to wardrobe. In the St. James, wardrobe was behind the orchestra pit. You have to have been in the wardrobe room of a Broadway theatre to understand this brand of claustrophobia. All the crew areas of theatre buildings, whether they’re well-planned for crew or not, are cadged out of closets and cubbyholes that one would never have expected. To say the wardrobe room at the St. James is cozy is to say that Michael Jordan is tall.

Someone had left the coffee on. Myrna did have hazelnut cream. What the heck, what’s one more cup? Myrna fluttered. It used to make me edgy. It was making me edgy now.

No, dear, nothing makes you anything unless you let it.

I deliberately seized a centering breath as Myrna turned to face me. “Myrna, it’s nice to see you. I’m sorry it has to be under these circumstances.”

“Mex, this is just awful. You know what? The stage manager was cool as a clam, too.” She always mixed her metaphors. It drove me nuts. “They got the understudy ready and finished the show. As if it never happened.”

“Isn’t that what a stage manager is supposed to do in a situation like this?”

“Yeeee-aaaaah.”

Myrna was back-pedaling because she was a little reluctant to condemn one of the family. Theatre folk have a natural, if short-lived, closeness. They connect to work together as a pseudo-family. Their common goal, a hit show, makes for a brittle intimacy. When the show closes, it’s over. Till the next time. Myrna went on.

“It just seemed so . . . heartless.”

“Honey, if the actor had fainted, he would have done the same thing, wouldn’t he?”

“She.”

“She, then.”

Mex! Sexism? That’s not like you, dear.

“Yes, but the guy was dead!”

“Did she know that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Myrna, we can’t find fault with someone doing a good job, can we?” I tried another tack. “Who’s that kid at the door?”

“The Mayor’s nephew. He’s in some kind of trouble. I don’t know what kind, but it must be pretty bad. The Mayor’s sister hit the door. She kicked the kid out and told him to go live with his uncle until he got it together.”

I think she meant wall, or maybe, ceiling. “Is The Mayor helping?”

“Yes, no. Who knows? He’s pretty much leaving the kid alone and letting him play on the computer. Mex, not to worry,” Myrna assumed the voice of motherhood, “he’ll grow out of the pierced phase and into something else. We just don’t know what yet.”

Myrna poured more coffee, and then she fluttered. Like a butterfly. No, flitted like a gnat. “What’s the name of the actor who died, hon?”

“Terrence. It’s Terrence, or it was Terrence. Everyone called him Terry.”

“Terrence. Plain? Like Cher?”

“Huh?”

“Did he have a last name?”

“Oh yeah. Let me see if I can find a Playbill.” Playbill is the name of the weekly magazine/program you get in a Broadway house. “Mex, you know I’m terrible with names. I thought yours was Max for the longest time.” This is not uncommon, and sometimes it works to my advantage. “Terrence Arguelles,” she said over her reading glasses. “He was born in Argentina.”

“Are his family still there?” She didn’t know. “Do you know who might know?” I asked.

“The general manager? Or the company manager?”

“And who might they be?”

“The company manager is a guy from the road. His name is Rob. The general manager is Theatre Group Ltd.”

“Myrna, may I have the Playbill please?”

“Oh,” she glanced down without seeing it. “Sure. There’re plenty more upstairs. Not that they’re accurate an more.” Myrna’s tears began afresh. I kissed her cheek.

“Thanks for the coffee, hon.” I left her crying, wondering about sparks and which bus she wanted to ride.


Chapter 4


12:05 according to the digital marquee at the Marquis Theatre. I never wear a watch because no matter how expensive they are, they simply will not keep time on my wrist. I send them haywire, or maybe Spirit does. Besides, someone always has the time when I need it.

Time to eat. I had a hankering for gorgonzola salad at Joe Allen. I always have the same thing at Joe’s. Gorgonzola salad is children food for me. There is a pungency to gorgonzola cheese that borders on poignancy. Mama and Granny used to take me to Manero’s Steakhouse in Greenwich for my birthday and the waiters there always sang me a stupendous rendition of Happy Birthday. It was the first place I had gorgonzola cheese and I fell in love with it.

I’m a creature of habit. Joe Allen is one of the restaurants on Restaurant Row. Lovely brownstones with basement restaurants on 46th Street, between Eighth and Ninth. Joe’s is my personal favorite. He opened the New York restaurant in 1965, originally for chorus kids with bad knees. It has red checked tablecloths, an easy atmosphere, and there’s a bar so I can smoke. The year was 1997; smoking had not yet been banned in public places in the Big Apple. The bar was originally twenty feet longer. Joe got it when they renovated the original Penn Station.

On a Tuesday, the restaurant was pretty quiet. The theatrical lunch crowd tends to eat a little later than we civilians, being as their days start later and end later than those of most people. Namely, most of them work nights. By two, Joe’s would be as busy as The Cosmic.

I ordered and read through the Playbill at leisure. Terrence Arguelles had a stellar bio. He came to the States to study Voice at Juilliard on a full scholarship. He’d been doing off-stage chorus and supernumeraries at the Met. Ever wondered how so few people on stage can produce that much sound? Now you know. This was his Broadway debut. Charlotte had said he was twenty-seven. That meant he’d probably been here a maximum of five years. Enough time to get on the wrong side of somebody.

Unless he was on the wrong side of somebody before he got here.

You have a point, Spirit.

Poor kid. This is how it goes with intuitive investigating. I let my mind wander down the paths logical to me, and then Spirit chimes in under the category of Other Things You Might Want To Consider, Dear.

I decided to call Kelley. The payphones at Joe’s are in the back on the bar side of the restaurant. There’s no privacy because they hang directly in the path of the loos and one of the kitchen doors. “Michael, it’s Mex, page me. 212-637-6377.” I always leave the number. For my own mother, I leave the number. It’s a good habit, and it drives me crazy when people don’t. Especially people I know well.

I fished in my bag for my drugstore granny glasses, because the typeface on the credits pages in the Playbill was just a mite too small for my rapidly-approaching-forty eyes. Theatre Group, Ltd. Did I know anyone there? Who? It didn’t ring any bells. What with Charlotte, and other bits of my own history, I am no stranger to the theatre. I majored in it in college. B.A., Smith, ’79.

I went back to the payphone. According to NYNEX, once Bell Atlantic, then Verizon, tomorrow who knows, Theatre Group Ltd. resided at 1500 Broadway. A theatrical ghetto. Same thing for 1501 across the street. Theatre offices of all kinds. Casting. Management. Publicity. Union. Advertising. Producers. I bopped up the three steps under Joe’s outdoor canopy without calling ahead.

The building directory directed me to the fourteenth floor, which is really the thirteenth, but the builders figure that if they don’t say it, it ain’t so. This might have been any office building in the world. Fluorescent lights in neutral-toned halls, light linoleum under noncommittal walls. From the open elevator door, the lettering on the opaque glass in the top of the door was unreadable. The door was propped open with one of those rubber-bottomed attached doorstoppers, leaking laughter and the undercurrent of office banter.

My pulse accelerated slightly—a body signal from Spirit. I had come to the real beginning of the case. These people at Theatre Group Ltd. quite obviously enjoyed what they did. I knocked on the wall to the right of the door. The merriment stopped and I eased my head into the room.

A sonorous voice called, “Mexicali Ro-o-ssse? Is that you?” Recognition hit me in the form of a shower of underarm effluvience. Dismay at the “glow” quickly turned into delight.

No one calls me Mexicali Rose except my mama. “Peaches,” I gulped, “it is.”

He was holding a telephone receiver which he then returned to its cradle with a general inquiry to the room, “Who have I called?”

I choked on a laugh. “People call me Mex these days.” I blushed. Willing it to stop makes it worse. Much worse.

Albert Poland a.k.a. The Peaches was my mama’s manager decades ago. His nickname has a story, which I am not at liberty to tell. You’ll have to ask him yourself. It had probably been ten years since I’d last seen him. Mama retired from the cabaret when I was still in college, nearly twenty years ago. The Peaches was my fairy godfather. Tall, blonde, crew cut, debonair, alternately zaftig and svelte. He was on the svelte side now.

“I didn’t know you were still in the biz, Peach. Last Mama told me, you’d retired to write your memoirs.”

“I did, but you know, darling, I’m like that phoenix bird The Divine Bernhardt—Sarah, not Sandra.” He assumed a Phoenix bird pose. “The Peaches rose from the ashes of her discontent to return to Broadway once again in a blaze of glory.”

Can you say mixed metaphor? Everyone laughed. Apparently this was standard office fare. “Dahling, Charlotte told me to expect you.”

I’d have to speak to Charlotte. She had not told me to expect The Peaches. “And here I am.” The office was an open room where everyone could hear everything. “Albert,” I had never, ever called him Albert before in my life. “Is there a place where we can talk privately?”

“Yes, dahling.” I waited. “The elevator.” More laughter, they’d all heard this line before.

“Seriously.”

“Seriously? No. Unless … there’s always a stroll, if I may take your arm.”

I crooked my arm and offered it to The Peach cast as a highly improbable Liza Doolittle. He rose delicately, tiptoed through his own office, and grasped my proffered appendage. We assayed the elevator. Thirteen, fourteen if you prefer, stories down. He asked the usual questions. How’s biz? How’s your mama? I can’t talk about my business since it’s all confidential, without exception, and Mama is always Mama.

On the street level, we made a hard left and turned south down Broadway. 1500 is located almost at the exact point where Broadway crosses Seventh Avenue and turns into a street on the East Side after being a strictly West Side street above Times Square. At this particular inter-section, the construction is perpetual, there is no end in sight. We couldn’t speak because the jackhammers were playing our song.

Finally, as we reached the fashion district below 41st Street, we talked. “Mexicali,” thanks be to God . . . he left off Rose, “Charlotte told us all last night that she would call you. I gather she didn’t get you till this morning.”

“Correct.”

“What can I do to help you? Myself, my office, and my staff are at your cervix.”

I started to blush again. “First, you can try to call me Mex.”

He feigned abashed. In real life, The Peaches is irrepressible. So quintessentially himself, and for so long, that he couldn’t be repressed. I find it refreshing. “Yes, Mex,” he tried it out. “You’ve really grown up, haven’t you?”

“Peaches, it’s probably been at least ten years since I’ve seen you. What did you expect me to do? Wait?”

“Oh, no, dahling, no.” I was treated to his wonderful, We-Are-Amused Laugh. “It’s just that I never pictured you this way.”

“What way is that?”

“I guess I thought you would be married and living on Long Island with three babies.”

“Albert, I need to know everything you know about Terrence Arguelles.”

“Mexicali R . . . , Mex, what about the babies?” The Peach always did like her dish. I should explain. The Peaches invented camp, and it isn’t seasonal. This pronoun play of his had been standard operating procedure with him for decades. I learned as a youngster to roll with him, her, boy, girl. Follow it the best you can.

“No babies. No husband.”

He had a wicked gleam in his eye. “Do you want a husband?”

This was none of his business and my child self answered his questions. “Not today.”

“I thought not,” she trumped. “You are on My Team.”

When I was little, I was pretty sure The Peaches thought that everyone was gay, but that we all didn’t know it yet. I decided to give him a nonanswer, an art I perfected with Mama. “If you like.”

“Mex, don’t bullshit me.” She was all business. Dish is business in this business.

“Dahling, did little Mexicali Rose grow up to be a lesbian?” The Peaches clutched my arm, skittered around big-eyed, and whispered conspiratorially, “I’m terrified of lesbians.”

“Peaches, does it matter?”

“It does,” he affirmed. “Dahling, if you’re on My Team, I’ll help you more. Girls have to stick together.”

“Alright, yes, I grew up to be a lesbian.”

At that, he smirked. Then he was quiet. The dish was over. “Mex, what can I do to help you? Oh, right. Tell you everything I know about Terrence Arguelles. He is gorgeous, or was. About six-five. A voice direct from Heaven. Quiet. Always on time. He was doing a violinist in the orchestra.”

I interrupted, “Whose gender would be . . . ?”

“You know that expression ‘on the bus,’ dahling? Terry drove the bus. He didn’t have an agent. One of the producers, also on Our Team, saw him at the Met and offered him the audition on a pretext, if you take my meaning.”

“Did he have a green card?”

“Yes, although we had to do some petition for him to stay in the country. He’d been in the States for about five years. He went to Juilliard for Voice on a full scholarship. I think his people are campesinos in a tiny village in Argentina.”

My pager sounded. Kelley. The Peach, always on top of the latest gadget, whipped the tiniest cellphone out of his pocket, punched an autodial button, gave his coordinates, and said, “Collect in a taxi.” We grabbed a cab and swapped cards.

“Mex, stay in touch. Whatever you need that I can give you, you’ve got.” Penny, Albert’s assistant, met us on the corner of 43rd and Broadway with cash. He gave me a sloppy peck on the cheek, and swooped out of the cab. I could have walked the rest of the way, but, dear one, I am a femme. We prefer to be chauffeured.

We tore across 43rd Street, tore, because cabdrivers in Manhattan don’t drive, they tear, right on Eighth Avenue, across 50th, and down plus kitty-corner across Seventh to my southeast corner of the block.

Kelley was waiting for me to return his call. Prudence and Money were waiting for me.


Chapter 5


I love to get mail. That day the mail was a waste except for the Siddha Yoga correspondence course I’d been getting for eight years. My spiritual path could be called eclectic, if you want to put a positive spin on it. The bottom line is that I take what works for me, and leave the rest. The point is to learn every single day. When I’m learning, I’m happy.

The copper-faced elevator doors and the Austrian crystal chandeliers make the decor of the lobby of my apartment building Early Bordello. Chas has her office on the second floor, so it is apropos. I swear we have the slowest elevators in Christendom. They have to be Otis prototypes. No matter, eleven flights is a long climb.

I never lock my door. I figure that I have eleven floors and a doorman for protection. If someone can get all the way up here and burgle my apartment, they need whatever they take more than I do. Besides, the only things I value, other than Granny’s antiques, are the cats and the books in my library. My library, my sanctuary, is in between the living room/office/kitchen and my bedroom. Is there such a thing as a book thief?

I dumped my bag and went straight for the phone. The dial tone was staccato. You know what that means, right? Voice mail messages. Might have just been Kelley but my intuition said check them.

Screaming from the bedroom brought me running. “Prudence! Money! Stop it!” Four innocent eyes gazed at me. These are my kitty angels and longest-time companions.

Prudence is a white, long-haired mix. Money is solid black and short-haired. She sheds more than Miss Prue though I’d never gotten a clear explanation from anyone as to why. It makes no sense to me. Shouldn’t long-haired cats shed more? Prue is sweetness itself. Money is as sassy as her namesake. They love each other, and better, they love me. Their names, like all names, have a story.

I’d had Miss Prue the longest, four or so years. Her name was a warning to me. It came from a card in my granny’s Aleister Crowley tarot deck, the Eight of Disks. Be prudent, wise, cautious, meticulous. Good advice for investigating, intuitive or otherwise; life too.

Money found me after I read an article in one of those free metaphysical street rags about a person who was broke. I related to the state at the time. Said penurious person got a cat and named it Money so she would get familiar with the stuff. On the day I met my little brat-cat, she’d ascended the half-flight of stairs on my landing by the garbage chute serenading only she knew who. I fed her and she kept me.

I was pretty sure that if I found money, and fed money and loved money, then money would find me. It did, although not in the way I might have chosen, had the choice been mine alone to make.

The messages were a fount. Michael, returning mine. He always tries me at all my numbers, no matter the one I leave him. A woman I’d met at Lavender & Lace a couple of weeks before. I didn’t recall her exactly. I meet a lot of women, especially there. And this. I wrote it down verbatim: “Detective Stone, this is Vincent Griffin. I may have information which will help you with the Terry Arguelles case.” He’d left an Upper West Side exchange.

I am not a detective.

Kelley first. They had to find him.

“Mexy, how goes it?”

He never tells first. “It goes.”

“You rang?”

Do you hear the tempo of this particular duet? I blew it in the next line.

“Do you know if anyone has notified next-of-kin? And where they are?”

“It wouldn’t have been in the paper if we hadn’t.” Them’s the Rules was his subtext.

“Michael, will you check? Please? I have a hunch.”

I jerked the phone away from my ear knowing full well that he’d eschew the hold button in favor of slamming the receiver down on his always paper-strewn desk. On technical hold or not, I always pray for the person I’m holding for whether I know them or not. What goes around definitely comes around and not always from the same place. Besides, one of the things I know for sure is that more prayer is better prayer.

Oh yes, Beloved, more prayer is better prayer, and what goes around does come around. You might not always recognize it, but I do.

I put the phone back to my ear when I heard it scrape his desk papers. Then I was safe. “Mexy. Dammit. You’re right. No one has notified the family. All we know is they’re somewhere in a tiny town in rural Argentina. We think without phone service.”

My guess was without Inglés as well. “Michael, we need to make this a top priority. The family have to be found and told.” My verb tenses tend toward the Anglican sometimes, I know. When cabaret passed its prime on this side of the pond, Mama did a lot of singing in Europe. Her base was always London so I spent plenty of time there as a kid. Some things, like plural for family just stuck. The British are right though. Family has to be plural, or it isn’t family.

Kelley’s embarrassment made him short with me. “Don’t lecture me, Mex. I’m on it.”

“Michael,” I said softly, “I know you’ll do your blessed Blue best.”

“Right,” said Billy Goat Gruff.

I am willing to bet Money herself that he has no clue as to how to find that family.


Chapter 6


This is how intuitive investigating goes.

Whilst holding for Kelley and praying, it came to me that quite a while ago I’d dated a stage manager who toured some show or other to Buenos Aires. That’s not something that lives in the front of the everyday brain. Intuition has a way of ordering things so I pay attention to the right ones.

I sat quietly trying to bring the details into daily mind. I think the show was Evita. Go figure that for a long-running hit in the Argentine. Carole, that was her name. Carole Franklin. I wondered if she was still a stage manager.

The Peaches’ carte blanche was already coming in handy. Penny, his assistant, pledged to ring Actors’ Equity and get right back to me. Equity can be so tetchy about giving out numbers for its members that it’s a wonder any of them get work.

Miss Prue had eaten and at that instant was bathing her silky white-furred self in my black-skirted lap. Those de-cat-hair-izers were made for the likes of me. I love my girls but I detest cat hair on anything. I planned to check out lint remover stock. At least I’d make money whilst I kept them in business.

The phone rang and I reached for it. Prudence remonstrated. “Mex Stone.”

“Mexica . . . Mex.” The Peaches herself. “Carole Franklin is on the road with Phantom in San Francisco. Call the Curran, and a 415- number.” Click, no good-bye, he must have taken lessons from Kelley. There’s a three-hour time difference. 4 p.m. here, 1 p.m. there. She might not be in yet, but then again she might be. Baghdad-by-the-Bay, hello.

Phantom, Carole Franklin.”

“Carole. Mex Stone.”

Her tone changed perceptibly. Downward. “Mexxxx” (rhymes with sexxxx), “what a surprise.” She didn’t sound surprised in the least. She sounded feline. Maybe she should be on the road with Cats? Prudence purred in increasing decibels. She must work for Carole.

“Carole, I’m calling on a difficult mission. Have you heard what happened with Oklahoma!?”

“No. Oh wait, the kids were talking about it last night, but I didn’t get the details.”

“The actor who played Jud is dead. He died in the first act onstage.”

“God, Mex, how awful!”

“The producers have asked me to find out what there is to be found out. Carole, didn’t you take Evita to Buenos Aires?”

“Sure, years ago. Why?”

“Terry Arguelles, the actor, was from Argentina.”

“What does Evita have to do with it?”

“Nothing, but Carole, there can’t be very many Broadway-type producers in Buenos Aires, can there?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Who did you work for? Locally.”

“Mexxxx,” again with the vocal thing, “that was lifetimes ago. Let me think a minute . . . how are you?”

“I’m well,” I said. What I thought was, C’mon, Carole, I don’t want to go there. Just bring it to mind and tell me, will you?

“I keep all my contact sheets. How’s about I find the name and call you back?” This was a ploy. She was fishing. I change my phone numbers, all of them, every six months like clock-work.

“No problem, Carole. I’ll call you back.”

“His name is Juan Carlos Marquesetta.”

As she spit out the number, what I’d suspected was certain. She just wanted my new number. “Carole, is there a time we might talk in more depth? I need to know as much about this guy as I can. Perhaps you could ring me after the show?”

I gave her my new number.

Wimp.

Then Carole said, “Mex, I have to be in New York this weekend for my niece’s christening. Let’s have . . . a something.”

This is not an invitation for a drink—she knows I don’t. Or for a meal—she knows I do. Nooo, this was . . . a something, and we both knew exactly what kind of something she had in mind. Am I no different than Chastity? At least Chas is honest about it. I caved. “Sure, Carole. How about Sunday afternoon?”

I love matinees.

“I’ll meet you at home, at two.”

We rang off. Shit, I had to clean, a lot. Things had gotten way past blowing hard as I passed by. Maybe Adeline had time for me.

I was pretty sure that no matter how remote Terry’s village, the premier Argentinean theatrical producer knew Terrence Arguelles. It may be a big country but talent was talent and it had a way of making its presence known. We’d see.


Chapter 7


4:40. By my rules, evening began at 5 p.m. This was a holdover from my drinking days when happy hour began at five. We used to say, it’s five o’clock somewhere in the world, isn’t it? Alcohol or no, evening still began at five. I had to call Charlotte.

For the record, I am adamant about keeping my commitments. If Mex Stone says she’ll call you this afternoon, you can be pretty sure that if she doesn’t, she has a better-than-good excuse. Like gunpoint, or hijacking.

For what it’s worth, revelation and miracles also work here, Beloved.

“Mex.” Charlotte sounded wasted. Emotionally fried.

“How do you want to handle this, Charlotte dear? Shall I report in by phone? Do you want to meet?”

“Don’t you dare come over here. I’m a wreck.”

I rarely go over to the East Side. I practically need a visa from the mayor of the City. “Charlotte, answer my question please.”

A friend of mine was a student of Arnold Siegel’s The Conversation. One point of the practice was to learn to track in common dialogue. Question asked? Question answered. In that order. Once my friend explained it to me, I made a commitment to answer the questions asked of me, and to insist upon answers to the questions I ask.

“Charlotte?”

“Why don’t you just call me when you know something? You don’t have to report in. I know you hate that.”

“Good.” I don’t hate anything, and it’s nice working for friends sometimes.

“Do you have something?”

“It’s always slow at the beginning of a case, dear. I’ll go to the theatre tonight and I’m sure I’ll know more. Who’s the stage manager and what time is he likely to be there?”

“She.”

Mex, this is the second time today.

“She.”

“Her name is Veronica D’Alcantara, and she’ll be there by six tonight.”

“Char, which of your partners offered Terry the audition?”

“How did you find out about that?”

“I heard it on the street.” We were at about 38th and Broadway.

“Oooh, Mexy, you’re good. His name is Marc Maringen. He’s one of our co-producers.” Then she almost whispered, and I wondered why. “Do you know why Marc offered him the chance?”

“I can guess.”

“Mex, let me know when you know.” Charlotte sat back in her chair. Some pictures come with sounds. “Send a bill for your retainer to the general manager’s office. The partnership is paying for this.”

“When I get around to it.”

When my Gypsy granny died, she left me quite comfortable. I got money round about when I got Money. No coinkydink. I miss Granny every single day.

“Char, chill, honey. I know this has been upsetting.”

“Oh, Mex. Thanks.” She added a soft goodbye. 5 p.m. The evening had begun.

“Vincent Griffen is not available to come to the phone right now. Please leave a message after the beep.” I don’t like to leave messages for people I don’t know so I didn’t.

Adeline next. She cleans my apartment twice a month, has done so for fourteen years. Excellent. She’ll come on Friday. Sweet Adeline is a total dear. Flexible, willing, hard-working. Funny as all get-out. Besides, whenever I call her for these special occasions, she knows why, and God help me, she never says a word.


Chapter 8


The Times was cold. I can’t read the daily paper if it’s old news. I pulled the puzzle and tossed the rest into the recycling. Fed the cats. Nuked three bites of leftover Chinois. Who knew how late I’d be out or if I’d get to eat? I planned a brisk walk through Times Square to the St. James for a 5:57 arrival. Punctual goes with keeping my commitments, answering the questions that I’m asked, and trackable conversation. Punctual is a misnomer. Chronically early is better.

The working girls were out for the early crowd. Chastity must have been doing pretty well. She had a new frilly red dress, luscious. She sent a big wink my way. I stay out of their way when they’re working. The TKTS Booth was its usual 47th Street pre-dinner mob. I dodged the queues to pat George M. Cohan on the foot, only metaphorically since he stands on an eight-foot granite pedestal. He’s my Yankee Doodle Dandy and I like his presence supervising Times Square. He’s avuncular. I went West on 45th Street through Shubert Alley to 44th Street to come at the theatre from a different angle. I never know what I’ll see.

My pager sang again. Kelley. He was working late. That’s unusual for him. He likes to go home to his delectable—his adjective, not mine—wife of many, many years, Monica. There’d be a phone in the theatre.

There are seven doors on the 44th Street side of the St. James. They face north. The three into the box office lobby are double security doors with fake polished brass fittings and handles. They replaced the originals, which were far lovelier, for insurance purposes is my guess. I strode into the lobby that paralleled the alley. This particular theatre is wider than it is deep, hence the long lobby, the long alley.

The cast photos in the lobby were more macabre than not. The extremely beautiful Terry, my first serious study of him other than in the show, scowled out of several of them. Jud, you will probably recall, is the villain of Oklahoma! I stood there ostensibly studying the photos but more tuning in to Terry’s energy. I had to find an energy pattern to follow so that the facts would take me to the truth and I would be able to solve the case.

Then I retraced my steps out of the public lobby and went back to traverse the length of the alley once more. There, where he belonged, sat The Mayor. He had been working overtime to maintain his girth. He appeared more round than tall at this point.

“Mayor!” I glowed at him.

“Mex Stone!” trumpeted the mayoral delight.

“I stopped by earlier . . . .”

“I know. I hadda go the school board for a hearing so Devon could go the school in my district. I’m sorry I missed you.”

Devon. He of oh-so-many piercings and snakings. “No big deal, Mayor. Might I come and visit with you tomorrow?” Foreign ambassadors must feel this way. Protocol feels totally natural to me, especially of the sort that feels like genuine, old-fashioned manners. We don’t make the time for manners much anymore, do we?

“Whenever you want, Mex. Here to talk to the cast?”

“Nope. I need to find Veronica D’Alcantara.”

The Mayor’s face fell in on itself. What was this? The Mayor maintained diplomatic relations with everyone. “She’s not here. Yet.” I felt an icy chill at my back right before a lanky brunette swept past both of us without greeting The Mayor. He continued, “Oops. I take it back. Yes, she is.”

I wiped the icicles off my chin, gave The Mayor a smile that would melt a glacier, and followed the spiral of her cologne across the stage.

When I knocked on the production office door, a throaty waft crept into my ears.

“Come in.”


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