The man’s grey eyes swept over Sandy and Lorna and settled on Sarah. “Hello, my love, how are you!” Taking her hand he kissed it. “Still as lovely as ever, I see.”
Sarah’s eyes mocked him. “That sounds as if I’ve been around for some time, Derek.” but she kissed his cheek before introducing Sandy and Lorna.
Derek shook hands with Sandy then turned to award Lorna the same greeting as Sarah. They smiled at each other over her hand and Lorna decided she liked him. He was a man whose age seemed indefinable yet whose face seemed to get younger every second one looked at it. Brown hair receding above lean features and a neatly clipped moustache, added to the slim figure, gave one the impression of a man who preferred to keep off the advancing years, not by trying to beat the young dandies, but by keeping wonderfully trim and neatly attired. His calculating eyes and quietly cultured diction reminded Lorna of a likeable villain from a Shakespearian play. “A pleasure to meet you, Miss Basset.” His eyes twinkling warmly.
“Likewise.” Lorna felt her cheeks burn under his gaze. “Are you an actor too?”
“Wrong side of the footlights, dear lady; strictly front of house. Nothing grand; just booking office manager.”
“Modest devil.” Sarah said. “I certainly wouldn’t like the job off sorting out the seats and tickets.”
Derek shrugged his shoulders. “It beats pushing a pen in some draughty office, I couldn’t bear that! I’m off duty this weekend but Gypsy’s father invited me to have lunch and meet the twinkling star.” He held up a brightly wrapped parcel. “Someone left this in my office yesterday and asked if I would give it to Gypsy’s daughter personally. We had a peep inside to make sure there was nothing nasty hidden in it, it’s a doll; isn’t that thoughtful of someone? Where is he by the way? I’m starving.” He eyed the food with exaggerated hunger. “Is it true no one eats till Gypsy arrives? If he doesn’t hurry his heavy brigade will be guarding the food instead of him.”
“Well thank God this is his only fad,” Sarah remarked. “I’ve been telling these two about the demands some big stars make.”
“You’d better believe it. I can assure you, Miss Bassett, the theatre manager couldn’t believe it when all Gypsy asked for was the space to throw this little party, and Mr. Thompson’s gear in the dressing room.” His eyes gazed longingly at the food on the table, and in particular at the bouchees filled with Prawn Andeluse. “I wonder if I dare!” His eyes twinkled with mischief as he looked round towards the door leading to the corridor beyond the dressing room. As if on cue the door opened and Gypsy walked in. Dressed in a loose blue sweater, jeans and sneakers, his smile was wide but Lorna knew his merriment was only on the surface. Leaning on elbow crutches, his face pinched with pain, there was little to see of the star of a spectacular show.
Having left the Rosscroft early that morning, when Gypsy was sleeping at last, Lorna had got a couple of hours rest herself before preparing Erica for the ride to the theatre. Ed and Manuel had gone to pick Gypsy up from the clinic and they had all met in the theatre foyer. Immediately the press had surrounded Gypsy, wanting to know about the breaking news that Gypsy had been instrumental in the arrest of a well-known head teacher and his family, on charges of running an international pedophile ring from their country mansion. Apart from a quick hug and kiss from Gypsy, Lorna had no chance to talk as she was officially introduced to the world as Gypsy’s fiancé. After that, Gypsy had gone to check the stage with his own stage manager, and Lorna had been escorted backstage to the dressing room. Now, Manuel, Ed carrying Erica, and surprisingly Jo, followed him in. His eyes sought Lorna’s over the crush, knowing what was in her mind and her fears that the news would be bad. Suddenly she felt rather than heard his whispered words in her mind. “Chin up, Princess, for Erica’s sake. We’ve not heard yet so there is still a chance.”
Stunned that she should be so receptive to Gypsy’s thoughts, she lost the chance to push her way to him before the crush tightened with people rushing to speak to him. Their greetings over, they eased back to give him just enough room to move among them without hindrance. He listened with quiet concern to those who spoke to him, and replied with patient wisdom. Engineers talked about feedback and pulsar modulators; stagehands discussed problems with limes, pulleys and rigging gear, among other topics, which were foreign to Lorna’ s ears. To the press, he apologized for not being available that morning and promised them a little of his time after lunch. Then Erica spotted Lorna and created a scene, which gave Gypsy the excuse to bring the discussion to an end, saying little ladies had to be obeyed. A path opened up for him and his family, and as soon as he reached the buffet table, he slipped an arm round Lorna’s waist and kissed her on the cheek. Erica struggled out of Ed’s arms and flung herself at Lorna, taking a tight hold of her left hand, and forcing herself between her and Gypsy, much to everyone’s amusement.
Manuel and Derek spotted each other and shook hands vigorously. “Derek, I am so glad you received my message. It is so good to see you again.” Turning to Gypsy, he said, “Gypsy, I would like you to meet the man who made my own debut at this magnificent theatre such a happy one, Derek Bessey. Derek, this is my son, Gypsy.”
As they shook hands, Lorna saw the warmth grow in Gypsy’s eyes and knew he had taken an instant liking to the man, as she had herself. “I’ve heard how you took Dad under your wing when he first came to England, as a minor artist and hardly speaking a word of English. For that I thank you, I’m glad he has a friend like you; perhaps one day you will be a friend of mine as well.”
“Why wait?” Derek said warmly. “We’re friends already.” Glancing down at Erica he held out the parcel. “Here you are, young lady, someone left this for you in my office.”
Erica looked up at her father before accepting it and, when he nodded his approval, she took it and allowed Derek to help her unwrap it. She gave a gasp of delight at the sight of the baby doll dressed in its own nightie and shawl and quickly hugged it to her. Satisfied she was fully occupied under Jo’s watchful gaze, Gypsy turned his attention to the buffet table.
At last Lorna was free to talk to Jo. “I didn’t think you’d be back so soon! You must have jumped on the first plane home.”
“It almost happened like that. I landed about an hour ago and I’m absolutely exhausted. Would you believe it, my father is as fit as a fiddle?” While Lorna stared at her open mouthed, Jo went on, “It was all a trick on Mother’s part; she is slowly running out of excuses to get her hands on Erica. Last time I went over there, I promised I would take Erica with me for a holiday and I’d put it off for so long, Mother decided to force my hand. She cooked up the story about Dad being ill, knowing I’d race home, hopefully with Erica in tow. Can you imagine such a crazy plan? Mother hit the roof when I arrived home alone, and so was I when I found I’d been conned. I was so furious I hopped onto the first plane home. I’m glad I did now, I wouldn’t have missed this gig for anything.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re back, I think I’ll be needing moral support for some time to come yet, I’m finding all this rather heavy going.”
“Don’t be silly.” Jo pointed to Erica who had crept back to Lorna’s side and was cuddling into her. “That’s all the support you need. Come on, let’s get something to eat before O’Riley eats it all, I know his appetite before a show, he eats like a pig.” Lorna knew she was only joking, having heard how Gypsy expended so much energy on stage and had to match his eating to balance his blood sugar throughout the show; often nibbling snacks between his appearances on stage.
The rest of the gathering stayed politely back till Gypsy’s immediate family had taken what they wanted, Lorna only taking a small plateful as she found her appetite fading with all the excitement. Derek hovered back till Gypsy grabbed him and pulled him to the table. “Did anyone tell you I am a mind reader, Derek? Get some of those bouchees before the vultures come in to roost.”
Gypsy himself took very little and when the portly Mr. Benchley enquired if anything was wrong, Gypsy shook his head. “Arthur, you have surpassed yourself this time but after what I have just been through I’m just not hungry.” Arthur looked crestfallen and Gypsy added cheerfully, “I know I’m supposed to eat a good meal before a show to keep my blood sugar level up, but if I ate right now I think I’d disgrace myself. Perhaps you could make up a plate I can eat in about an hour, and some snacks I can eat during the show?”
As Gypsy’s group moved away from the table and the rest of’ the party descended upon it, Gypsy slipped his arm round Lorna’s waist and said in her ear, “I hope you don’t mind, but we’re going to have to separate again. Do you think you could circulate and play the hostess bit for a while? Erica seems happy enough with her new doll; she’ll be okay with Jo.”
Erica had left the safety of Lorna’s side and was now seated on a chair beside her aunt, talking busily to one of Gypsy’s female dancers about her new doll while eating her way through a plate of’ tiny sandwiches specially prepared for her by Arthur. Lorna watched her for a few seconds, decided Gypsy was right, and turned to face those who eagerly waited for a chance to chat with her, the most popular topic being possible wedding arrangements; apparently these people never missed a trick. As she progressed through the gathering, she heard Ed and Sandy discussing weightlifting at length with two or Gypsy’s male dancers while Manuel had cornered Derek and a musician and was chatting about music, what else? Gypsy himself was seated in a chair, surrounded by several of the guests, and Lorna found herself being slowly maneuvered towards him till she stood at his side. A space was made so she could sit on the arm of his chair, and they were teased and toasted alternately till Erica pushed her way through the crush to sit on Gypsy’s knee. She showed him her doll and he took it from her to admire it and shower it with praise, and Lorna noticed how still he became, eyes fixed on the doll. Seconds later he seemed to come out of a trance and handed the doll back to Erica. “She is very pretty, isn’t she?” he said, but Lorna knew he was troubled and remained so till Ed made his appearance.
“I hate to break up the party, Gypsy, but I’ve got less than an hour to get you bouncing on stage for the pre-run, let’s get going.”
Amid cries of disappointment, Gypsy said to everyone, “That is life, amigos; the good things never last! Anyone not slogging their guts out for me are welcome to watch the pre-run.” As he made his way to the inner sanctum, he called over his shoulder, “Thank you everyone for your company, see you later on.” and a minute later he was stripped to his briers and lying on Ed’s mobile massage table, covered with a half sheet, having joints loosened and muscles toned up while selected members of his entourage talked busily around him, the only persons absent being Erskine and Barney who had not yet made their appearance. Patrick, his lead dancer, came in to talk to Gypsy about changes in the dance routines now that Gypsy seemed destined to do only the easiest of movements, and while they talked and argued about what he could and could not do, Gypsy’s eyes kept straying to the doll Erica was still cuddling. When Lorna asked him what was wrong he said, “I don’t like it, I don’t know why, I just don’t.”
A few minutes later, Gypsy donned practice gear and was performing a series of exercises to see how much his ailing body could do when Erskine and Barney made their appearance. Noticing their grim expression, he stopped what he was doing. “Trouble?”
“Not exactly,” Barney said. “Just some news we thought you should hear. Don’s been doing some first class work helping the police round up a few more of the MacCaffrey clan. He’s done what you wanted and kept your name out of the picture. And he’s identified Mr. And Mrs. MacCaffrey senior as Mr. and Mrs. Mellor, formerly of California.”
Gypsy’s eyes widened. “Wow! Ed, you remember the chat Don and I had about his past? No wonder he went after the MacCaffreys; it was the Mellors who seduced him when he was a kid. They were running the God and sacrifice project even then, but Don was lucky. He was about to be sacrificed when the cops raided the place and he managed to escape.”
Sandy gave a whistle of surprise. “No wonder Don was keen to ‘elp.”
Erskine tapped Gypsy on the shoulder. “It wasn’t either of you who led the cops to MacCaffrey’s cottage, was it?”
“No, but I had planned to make sure the police knew what MacCaffrey was up to. I wouldn’t put it past Don to be the culprit. It seems our visit to MacCaffrey’s house was made just in time. If it wasn’t Don, it could have been Brian.”
“Why should it be him?”
Gypsy resumed his exercises. “I am not sure, it’s just a feeling I have.”
Barney shrugged his shoulders. “At least the police found enough evidence to send MacCaffrey and his parents down for a long time, but the Hines have disappeared. The police say their house has been partially stripped and there’s no sign of any of that gear you talked about. Brian and Peter are missing as well, although there is a rumour that Peter has been in Buenos Aires for the last month. My contacts down there are checking this out.”
Gypsy’s face was a mask of deep thought as he turned towards the make-up bench and braced his left foot against it. Extending his body along his leg, fingers touching toes, he forced his knee to straighten and his leg muscles to stretch. He paused for a moment then straightened up and did the same with his right leg. “I think I can help the police find the Hines. There’s an old airstrip connected to some kind of farm near their house. They were there at midnight, possibly waiting for someone with a plane.” Barney and Erskine stared at each other then at Gypsy as he continued to talk quietly as if to himself. “I don’t think they are there now but the tread marks of their car are still fresh, still wet, so they can’t have left the airstrip till recently.”
Barney nodded his head. “It only started raining at nine o’clock this morning; it stopped about two hours ago. What about Brian and Peter?”
Gypsy frowned. “Peter is…near water...deep water...but for Brian it’s too late. Someone has...” Gypsy straightened up, blinking and looking round in confusion. He met his father’s eyes and they stared at each other for a long time. Lorna sensed they knew something terrible had or was about to happen concerning Brian MacCaffrey, and she felt chilled. She caught Jo’s eye and together they escorted Erica from the room.
Derek started to move after them. “If you foks want to talk, I’ll go and keep the ladies company.”
Gypsy stopped him. “No. One moment please, Derek, I’d like to know where that doll came from. Do you know who left it?”
Derek closed the door behind Lorna and Jo and came back to where Gypsy stood. “I’m sorry, I haven’t a clue; I wasn’t around when it was delivered.”
“Could you find out for me, please?”
“I can ring the girl who was on duty if you like, although from what she told me it was just a lady who handed it in, couldn’t have been a regular or she’d have said.”
“Young, old, middle aged?”
“Give me ten minutes and I’ll see what I can find out. Why the interest, by the way?’
Gypsy’s eyes narrowed. “I just don’t like the doll.” Derek’s eyebrows rose as he left the room, indicating his belief that Gypsy’s strange behavior was just another entertainer’s temperamental eccentricity. After the door closed, Gypsy looked directly at Manuel. “I want you to get rid of that doll, Dad.”
Manuel looked shocked. “What is wrong with it?”
“It’s evil. Please, Dad, just get rid of it”
“That is going to be very difficult.”
((( The Late Derek Bessey was a real person and a friend of mine who was indeed the booking office manager for the Theatre Royal Drury Lane at the time of my second re-writing of this story in the early eighties. He gave me valuable information about the interior of the theatre for which I am most grateful, and his friend the late Maurice Pickering, whom I knew very well, gave me the information about the bikes used in the previous chapter. In return for Derek’s theatre information, I jokingly said I would put him in my story, and Derek said he would be delighted. So here he is. Thanks guys, I hope you can see this story completed at last from your place in heaven, and it meets with your approval.)))