Act One ended when Justine was hanged.
Victoria Trumbull, the ninety-two-year-old poet and playwright, sat in an aisle seat near the front of the theater watching the dress rehearsal of her adaptation of
For this occasion she wore her best suit, dark green plaid, and a blouse with a soft bow at the neck. She sat tall and held her head high. Her eagle-beak nose jutted out between deep-set, hooded eyes.
Dearborn Hill, artistic director for the Island Players, a large man with theatrically rumpled white hair, climbed up the steps to the stage.
“That wraps up Act One, people. Peg and Teddy have to leave early, so I’ll go over the notes now for their parts.” He checked his watch. “The rest of you take a forty-five-minute break. I want you back here at eight-thirty.”
“Isn’t Peg staying for the full rehearsal?” called out a girl’s voice from behind Victoria in the auditorium.
Dearborn Hill shaded his eyes against the footlights and looked out over the dark seats. “I can’t see you, Dawn, but no, she won’t be staying.” He strode to stage left and back again, slapping a rolled-up copy of Victoria’s script against his thigh. “For those of you new to acting,” he gestured at the dim figures in the auditorium, “a professional production would not break during dress rehearsal. The cast would remain backstage.”
“Professional!?!” Dawn again, a touch of insolence in her voice.
Dearborn went on, ignoring her. “Before you leave, I have an announcement. Some of you may already have heard that Teddy
Vanderhoop has been offered a juvenile lead in a new television series.” He took a few steps, turned, and looked out at his unseen audience. “His mother is in California now, negotiating with the producers. Until her return, Teddy is staying with Peg, whose part is over, of course, when Justine is hanged.” Dearborn allowed himself a small smile.
“His mom will miss opening night tomorrow.”
Dearborn frowned and turned to Teddy Vanderhoop, a slight, redheaded eight-year-old, who had come out from the wings to stand next to Peg on stage. “An actor’s life, right, young man?”
Teddy looked down at his feet and dug the toes of his untied high-top sneakers into the floorboards.
Dearborn held up his hands. “That’s all, folks.”
Victoria heard sounds of lifted seats, low conversation, and shuffling feet before the theater was quiet again.
Teddy was acting the part of five-year-old William Frankenstein, the first victim of the monster created by his big brother, Victor. Peg Storm was playing Justine, the Frankenstein family’s housekeeper.
Dearborn strode over to the wings and returned with a bentwood chair. He straddled it, his arms folded over the back, the play script in hand.
Teddy waited uncertainly.
“You may step down, Teddy,” said Dearborn.
As he came down the steps from the stage, Teddy glanced around. Victoria waved her copy of the play at him and moved over one seat so he could sit next to her.
“I hate that man,” Teddy whispered.
“He can be difficult,” Victoria agreed. “But he’s quite a good director.”
Onstage, Dearborn pointed his rolled-up script at Peg. “More emotion, Justine. Sorrow over little William’s death. When
you’re on trial, show surprise, misery. Confidence that you’ll be exonerated.” He stood up. “Graceful suffering in the face of injustice. Even your name is a play on the word justice.”
“Yeah,” Teddy muttered to Victoria.
“Hush!” said Victoria.
Dearborn Hill pushed his chair to one side and opened the script. “Take it from where Justine says, ‘God knows how entirely I am innocent.’ I’ll read the other parts.”
Peg had never acted in a play before. Teddy’s mother, who loved the theater, had urged her to try out for the role of Justine, and here she was now, on stage. Acting.
Partway through the rehearsal, Dearborn stopped and flicked his hand on the script. “More emotion, Justine.” He put the script under his arm, clasped his hands, and looked up to where the judge would be sitting. “‘I commit my cause to the justice of my judges.’ Avert your eyes.” He opened the script and read, gesturing with his hand toward the judge’s bench, “‘I pledge my salvation on my innocence.’” He looked over at Peg. “This is, of course, an overly sentimental line, but Mrs. Trumbull has captured the feeling of the late 1700s in her script. And, I believe, she’s taken much of the dialogue directly from Mary Shelley’s book.” He looked out into the dark auditorium. “Isn’t that right, Mrs. Trumbull?”
“That’s right,” said Victoria.
Teddy made a gurgling noise.
Dearborn turned back to Peg. “Once more.”
Peg took a deep breath and went over her lines again.
“Excellent,” said Dearborn, after she’d finished. He turned to face the dark theater. “Are you still there, Mrs. Trumbull?”
“Yes,” said Victoria. “Third row aisle.”
“I may ask you to tweak Justine’s lines before tomorrow.”
“Isn’t it a bit late for that?”
“Some of these archaic passages simply don’t play well. We’ll make adjustments throughout the run.”
Teddy glanced up at Victoria and she smiled.
Dearborn turned back to Peg. “Be here with Teddy an hour before curtain tomorrow night.”
“I’m awfully nervous. I’m sure I’ll go up on my lines.” Peg’s smile brightened her somber, made-up face.
“You sound like a professional,” Dearborn said. “No need to rehearse a curtain call. At the end of the play, come out with the De Lacey family. Hold Monsieur De Lacey’s hand. Remember, the audience believes he’s blind.”
“Aren’t you supposed to tell me to break a leg?”
Dearborn chuckled. “Break a leg, my dear.” He turned back to the auditorium. “You out there, Teddy?”
“I’m counting on you to make sure Ms. Storm shows up on time. You’re the professional, remember.”
From somewhere behind Victoria came a sound that was a combination laugh, snort, and grunt.
Dearborn shaded his eyes. “Someone out there? You, Dawn?”
Victoria turned, but couldn’t see anyone in the darkness. Dearborn shrugged and strode off the stage.
Peg and Teddy walked up the hill from the theater. Low sun shone through the trees that lined Franklin Street where she’d parked. At this time of year, early July, sunset wouldn’t be for another half-hour.
“I think you’re a wonderful actor, Teddy.” Peg put her arm around the boy and hugged him. “You’re the absolute best.”
Teddy grinned. He’d wiped off the blacking that the makeup woman had used to cover his big front teeth, and they glistened in the low evening light.
“I wish I could stay to the end. It’s not like I have school or anything. I mean, it’s summer.”
“Tomorrow’s opening night. You have to stay for curtain call.
the party afterwards.”
“The party! Promise?”
“Cross my heart and hope to die. While you were taking off your makeup, I ordered a pizza from Louis’s.”
“Awesome,” said Teddy. “Large? Pepperoni?”
“I hate Mr. Hill.”
“Well, I do. He’s a phony. And I hate Mr. Duncan, too. He likes you a lot, doesn’t he?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“But you don’t like him?”
“Pizza,” said Peg.
At Louis’s, Peg paid for the pizza and handed the large flat box to Teddy. The warm spicy smell filled the car.
Peg’s house was next to Teddy’s on Job’s Neck. The house had been in her family for more than a century, but she’d almost lost it when she and Lennie were divorced after only four years of marriage. She’d bought him out.
The house was on the edge of a bluff overlooking Lagoon Pond and the harbor. A steep wooden stairway ended at a small dock where she used to keep her catboat. Lennie now owned her catboat. She’d see him occasionally, sailing her catboat past her house. For spite.
“Your mom should be calling soon.” Peg checked her watch. “Are you excited about moving to California?”
“What does your father think about the move?”
“He told my mother she’d be sorry.”
“Oh,” said Peg.
“He told her he was going to make sure she was sorry. He wants half the money I earn because he’s my father. That’s what my mother says.”
Peg knew more than she wanted to know about divorce. She changed the subject abruptly by pointing to a flock of mallards in the shallow water beyond Maciel Marine. A small skiff
rounded Job’s Neck and disappeared from view. They could hear the murmur of the outboard motor. Low sun backlighted tall grasses growing in the marsh on the right side of the road.
Peg turned onto the sand road that led to the point. “I’ll miss you when you move to California, Teddy. And your mother. You’ve been good friends.”
“Me, too. Can I pick up my bike?”
“Sure. I’ll drop you off at your house and while you’re riding back to mine, I’ll bring in our costumes and the pizza.”
“I want to get my comic books, too.”
“I’ll see you in about ten minutes, then. Don’t be too long. Your mother’s supposed to call.”
“And the pizza will get cold.”
Peg parked in her driveway by the side gate and got out with the costumes, leaving the pizza on the front seat. She pushed against the gate and it swung open. That was odd. She was sure she’d latched it to keep Sandy in. She went to the kitchen door, the entrance everyone used, and noticed the door was ajar. Someone hadn’t shut it firmly. Like most Islanders, she never locked up. Neighbors walked in and left dishes of food or books they thought she might like, and she did the same. But neighbors usually shut doors and gates when they left.
Where was Sandy? She expected her scruffy mutt to rush out and greet her, barking and wriggling with excitement.
Peg shifted the costumes to one arm and pushed her way in. “Hello, anyone here?” she called out. “Sandy? Here, Sandy!”
When he didn’t respond, Peg was sure she knew what had happened. Someone had not latched the door, and Sandy had slipped out through the gate. She’d hear from the Lears, who lived across the road. They were not dog people.
Evening light was fading fast. Through the window over the sink she could see the glow of sunset on the clouds, pink turning to violet. The kitchen was already in shadow. Peg reached for the light switch and flicked it on.
“Damn,” she muttered. “Another bulb burned out. Unless the
power’s off.” She looked out through the window and saw lighted windows farther down the point. “I hope it’s not a blown fuse.”
She felt for the drawer where she kept flashlights, still holding the bulky costumes in one arm. A floorboard creaked in the dining room.
“Hello,” she called out. “Is that you, Teddy?”
No one answered. Old houses creaked all by themselves. She shrugged off her feeling of unease. A neighbor had stopped in and the house was resettling.
But where was Sandy? Perhaps the Lears had called the animal control officer. That meant she’d have to pay another fine because Sandy was running loose.
The play had her nerves on edge, the play, with its dark setting, its monster manufactured from spare human parts. And four deaths. Dearborn Hill insisted that Mary Shelley’s book was misunderstood. None of the old movie or play adaptations had done the book justice. None was as faithful as Victoria Trumbull’s adaptation. Peg supposed he was right, but still …
She switched on her flashlight and, by its weak light, went into the dining room, intending to lay the costumes on the table. If the dining room light worked, she would replace the burned-out bulb in the kitchen. She hoped she wouldn’t have to go down the steep cellar steps in the dark to change a fuse.
Another board creaked. An old house muttering. When she was a child she loved to lie in bed and listen to this same old house adjust itself to the coolness of night.
She pressed the old-fashioned light button with its mother-of-pearl center. Nothing. What a time for the fuse to blow, when she felt so unsettled, and with Teddy staying over …
What was the matter with her? Then she realized what it was. Tomorrow was opening night. For the first time in her life she would face an audience, and she was terrified. How silly. Teddy, eight years old, wasn’t the least bit afraid of going on stage. And here she was, thirty-two, and scared to death.
She was about to set the costumes on the table and trek down the steps and across the musty, cobwebby, brick-floored cellar to the fuse box, when she heard footsteps.
“Hello?” she said, now alarmed. “Who is it?”