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Bullets For Macbeth
A Hilary Quayle Mystery
By Marvin Kaye
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1976 Marvin Kaye
All rights reserved.
So I'm impressed. She solved the 350-year-old mystery of the Third Murderer in Macbeth. So what? The point is we don't make two cents playing detective, but try telling that to Hilary Quayle.
"Look," I started to say, "we're supposed to be in the PR business, but your genius at deducting—"
"The word is 'deducing,'" she interrupted in her number two condescending tone. "Would you like me to pay your tuition to night school?"
"The word is deducting! Your amateur sleuthing deducts time from the clients and doesn't earn anything for the agency."
"Since it's my agency," she replied with some asperity, "suppose you let me worry about that."
"If you weren't so damned stubborn, you'd chuck public relations, which doesn't thrill you, and—"
"And what?" Hilary snapped.
"Open a detective agency in earnest."
She glared at me in disbelief. I know that look pretty well by now: the what-kind-of-bug-crawled-out-of-the-cellar stare. She hadn't used it on me for over a week, which shows that Hilary and I were really getting comfortable with one another.
"Just tell me," she murmured, "how the hell I can start an agency when I can't get a New York license."
"Put the business in my name."
"Look, I have a state license. You don't. So all you have to do is register the business in my name and continue to handle the brainwork yourself. It's your money, so there's no question about who would really be boss."
I ought to know when to stop, but I kept on talking, despite her growing annoyance. She paid about as much attention to what I said as a cannibal at a lecture on vegetarianism. Finally, I paused to ask her what she thought, and Hilary said what I was suggesting was a change from a symbiotic relationship to a parasitic one, with herself as the host body.
That left her open to two attacks: a cheap sexist crack and a dangerous observation on her neurosis that all men are out to dominate her. I was so irritated that I used them both.
As usual, she fired me.
But on the cold afternoon when Michael Godwin called, Hilary and I happened to be on good terms. In fact, you might say we went out that night on our first date.
You might. I doubt that Hilary would.
The day was damp and gloomy. The blinds in our office were closed, and a pallid glare limned their edges whenever lightning stabbed the sky, which was often. The thunder alternated between fortissimo and a muted rumble, and the rain lashed empty streets with elemental fury. By the clock, it was late afternoon, but the December storm shrouded the city in darkness.
Hilary sat at her desk figuring out the annual promotional budget for our biggest account, Trim-Tram Toys. She hates the financial end of the business and prefers to save her energy for conceptualizing campaigns and carrying them out. But with the waning year nearly done and the budget long overdue, both Scott Miranda, Trim-Tram's president, and I were harassing her to finish it, and she could no longer put off the unpleasant task, so she worked on it all that dismal afternoon.
By a quarter to five, there was a lull in the storm. The rain hushed to a whisper. It was growing dark in the office, so I got up to switch on the overhead lights, but Hilary stopped me with a gesture. She flicked off her desk lamp and, leaning forward, rested her head in her hands. It was becoming chilly, and I asked whether she wanted me to fetch her a sweater, but she shook her head.
"I'm worn out," she said. "Let's quit for the day."
"Is the budget finished?"
"Not yet, Gene, but I can't, not today. My head aches and my back and neck are stiff. I'll wrap it up tomorrow, I promise."
Which told me how exhausted she was. Hilary makes promises to me about as often as they bowl on the moon.
I stood looking down at her. Neither of us moved for a long time. The atmosphere in the dimly illuminated room was curiously disorienting; I felt a million miles away from identity, continuity, responsibilities. Perhaps it was because it was the tag end of a wet winter afternoon declining toward evening, or maybe it was because the storm isolated us from the rest of the city like two castaways on a furnished isle, but I felt myself delicately attuned to Hilary in a mood of unarticulated closeness which I wondered whether Hilary shared. There in the glow of the 100-watt bulb mounted on a gooseneck extension on my desk, I studied the woman I worked for. The lamp created more shadows than light in the far corner where her desk stood by the window. Distant lightning flickered through the slats of the blinds, etching her figure in silhouette, like an aura. Her long, blond hair, which I'd finally convinced her to stop tying severely in back, caressed her long neck in silken cascades. Her blue eyes were closed.
I checked an impulse to put my hands upon her shoulders. Time passed: I wondered whether she was as aware of me as I of her. At last, I reached out and gently touched her, resting my hands lightly on either side of her neck. I waited, immobile.
"What are you doing?" she murmured.
"You said you were stiff." She said nothing, so I began to knead the knotted muscles above her collarbone. Her skin was soft, but I could feel the tension in her shoulders, which I massaged. She leaned forward, and I continued down her spine, administering gentle pressures and blows until I could feel the stiffness seeping away, leaving her supple beneath my hands.
The gloomy chamber was silent. Our breathing was hard to discern, although I thought our rhythms of inspiration and exhalation were beginning to coincide. Slowly, imperceptibly, my touch grew softer upon her back, neck, and shoulders, and we found ourselves united in a tactile experience both innocent and intimate. At last, Hilary's hands touched mine, stilling them. I started to withdraw, but her fingers encircled my wrists and did not relinquish their grip. She looked up at me, and I marveled once more at the blueness or, rather, the aliveness of Hilary's eyes. Her hands slipped downward a fraction of an inch. A moment of expectant silence. Her hands moved again, but the pressure was so subtle I almost doubted whether I had really felt it. Then the tips of my fingers brushed against the rise of her breasts. She released me and placed her fingers on my arms; her nails traced patterns on my skin.
And then the phone rang.
"I'm not in," she breathed. "Take the message." I silently chalked up a point in my favor.
Since the workday was officially over, I didn't say "Hilary Unlimited" but "Ms. Quayle's residence." A deep masculine voice blared in reply, and I had to hold the instrument a foot away from my ear to prevent terminal deafness.
"Tell Celia," he roared (though, in fairness, I suppose he thought he was talking at a normal decibel level), "that Oliver and Rosalind expect an audience!"
I figured it was either a wrong number or a nut and started to hang up, but Hilary's eyes lit up and she pounced on the phone, waving me to get off the line.
"Mike, is that you?!" she shouted into the receiver. "Where are you?"
She listened for a moment, then laughed heartily, said something else, and laughed again. I stared in astonishment. In the year I'd been associated with Hilary Quayle, I thought I'd occasionally caught a brief glimpse of the woman beneath the brittle facade. But now, suddenly, I was confronted with an absolute stranger, a giggling schoolgirl who had nothing in common with the controlled, sophisticated person I knew. Her eyes danced merrily, and there was a grin on her face instead of the self-conscious uptilt that usually creases the corner of her mouth to show when she's supposed to be smiling.
Her entire attention was focused on the conversation, and she'd completely forgotten my presence. I waited a long time, but the call dragged on and on. I slumped down in my chair and wondered whether I ought to clear out of the room before she hung up. With the mood of our private moment shattered beyond recognition, I was afraid it might be uncomfortable for both of us once Hilary remembered the liberty I'd started to take.
But there was no need to worry. The phone call erased the incident from her mind. Once she finally rang off, Hilary sat lost in thought, her face transfigured by a pleasure I could neither fathom nor share.
At last, I rose to get my coat and go out to dinner. The movement startled her.
"Gene!" she said. "I forgot you were here."
Which was great for my ego, but I skipped it I asked her who the hell Oliver, Celia, and Rosalind were.
"That was an old friend of mine, Michael Godwin."
"The theatrical director?"
She nodded. "I met him the year I tried to become an actor."
Hilary laughed. "Don't look so surprised! There are quite a few things you don't know about me, Gene—but then, you're not exactly talkative about your past, either, are you?"
Before I could answer, she rose and started down the hall to her room. "I have to hurry," she said over her shoulder. "We're having dinner in the Village, and I have to get dressed."
"You're going out in weather like this?" I asked, incredulously. Hilary hates to go places on a moment's notice, and the idea of her trotting out on such a night for a last-minute rendezvous seemed as likely to me as her portraying Joan of Arc. Yet she was doing it, and for all I knew of her past, maybe she had once played the Maid of Orleans.
"It's partly business," she said by way of explanation. "Michael's directing a show in town and thinks we might be able to get a crack at handling the press. Maybe you should come along."
I thanked her, but said I didn't want to be a fifth wheel.
"Don't be silly," Hilary scoffed, "I don't have a date with him. He's married. We'll be meeting him and his wife, Melanie. Give me a few minutes, I won't be long." She slammed the bedroom door shut, having made up my mind that I was to accompany her.
If you want to call that a date, you're welcome to.
One thing was unusual about the present occasion. Except for strictly business purposes, we'd never before shared an evening meal, and since the upcoming dinner was at least partially social, I wondered whether there was any significance to the fact. Maybe her asking me to come along was a delicate concession to our fleeting moment of incipient passion.
It wasn't until after I'd sloshed over to the Eighty-seventh Street garage for the Opel that it occurred to me that the only reason she might have invited me is that she hates to drive during a rainstorm.
I turned on WINS for a quick weather check before pulling up in front of the green canopy of our building. I heard a report that lightning fires had ignited in various parts of the city; then, as Hilary snapped on her seat belt, I switched off the radio. The sound of it makes her nervous when she's riding or driving.
The fog was thick and the headlights pierced it with difficulty. We crept along West End, and even the hacks stayed in their own lanes. The lurid glare of the skyline cloaked New York in a crimson mantle.
Hilary had a plastic raincoat wrapped about her topcoat and the dark-blue wool suit which she'd donned for the evening. On another woman, it might have merely looked smart in a scratchy way, but the material clung to Hilary's subtle contours, giving the illusion that its texture was as smooth and soft as silk.
The shush of the wipers swept arcs of visibility across the streaming windshield, and the engine hummed to itself. I reminded Hilary that she still hadn't explained Godwin's cryptic reference to Rosalind, Oliver, and Celia.
"In my senior year," she reminisced, "our school booked a cutdown road company version of Hamlet. It starred and was directed by Michael Godwin. My roommate and I saw it and instantly developed crushes on him. We thought he had so much style and elegance. Of course, most of the credit belonged to Shakespeare, but we were too green to separate the mask from the person wearing it."
I braked for a red light and glanced at her. She stared into the night beyond the windshield, oblivious of the rain, enmeshed in the fabric of memory.
"By the time we returned to the dorm, we'd decided that we wanted to act. My roommate got over her infatuation in a day or so, but I didn't. I made up my mind to go into the theater—mainly so I could get to play a love scene someday with Michael Godwin. And the very next summer," she added, "I got my wish." She sighed. "Some ambitions ought never be fulfilled. Anyway, after graduation, I started work on my master's in Colorado, signing up for courses in acting and technical theater. I stayed through the first summer to work at Red Valley Playhouse, a university-supported drama tent about fifteen miles off campus. The reason I'd decided to is that I'd learned that Michael Godwin was scheduled to troupe in his touring package of As You Like It to Red Valley in July. I found out he was going to audition local talent for the part of Celia. I pleaded with my faculty adviser to let me read for it, and he finally gave in."
"Who's Celia? The lead?"
"That question," Hilary stated, "is rather obtuse, even for you. Would any sane director tour a show without the leads already cast? The leading woman's part in As You Like It is Rosalind."
"Okay. That's Rosalind and Celia, now who's Oliver?"
"The villain. Celia falls in love with him, and vice versa."
"Check. Godwin must've been playing Oliver, right?"
"So did you get the part?"
"Oh, yes!" she said ruefully. "I even wrote to my old roommate to brag. I'd lived the fantasy so long I figured he'd take one look at me and beg me to hop into bed."
"Which, I take it, he didn't"
"Hardly." She laughed, shaking her head. Privately I wondered what was wrong with him.
We crossed Forty-second, drove south, then turned off Eleventh into a deserted street. I stepped on the accelerator, but Hilary told me to slow down. She resumed her story.
"The trouble was that Mike was nuts about the leading lady, Melanie Keaton. I tried to hate her for it, but she was too sweet, and I ended up her friend. Still, I was jealous of her. Celia had to flounce around in a balloon of a gown that completely hid my figure. But Rosalind is like Portia or Viola, one of those Shakespearean heroines in drag. Melanie has great hips, and she was allowed to show them off in tight green slacks. Mike used to stare at her like a stricken mooncalf."
"But didn't he even notice you?"
"Oh, he noticed me all right," Hilary said, wryly. "Every night after the show, the cast went out for sandwiches and beer, and he and I sat off in a corner together. Can you guess why?"
I nodded. "The symptoms sound familiar: shades of Henry James; Christopher Newman and Mrs. Tristram."
"Precisely! He thought I was 'simpatico,' so he made me his confidante. Every night, he'd cry on my shoulder about how Melanie didn't even know he existed. Which shows how little he understood her."
"From which I gather she was very much aware of him."
"Very much. But the irony was that she thought he was hung up on me, because every time she looked, the two of us were having a tête-à-tête."
"It sounds as if it wouldn't have taken too much effort to turn his entire attention in your direction."
"Don't think that hasn't crossed my mind about six thousand times in the past ten or eleven years," she remarked, dourly. "But you're not reckoning with the post-adolescent's sense of 'high drama'!"
"Don't tell me!" I groaned good-naturedly. "You played the old John Alden bit?"
"For the first, last, and only time in my life! I was so hammy, it was nauseating. I even talked to my mirror: 'I'll bring him happiness, even though I sacrifice my own.' The young tragedienne!" She shook her head, annoyed and amused at her earlier folly. "Never again!"
We were reasonably near our destination. Miraculously, a parking space loomed up ahead; I swung the wheel, braked, backed in, and straightened out, then shut off the engine. As we unfastened our seat belts, I asked Hilary how long it had taken Melanie Keaton to become Melanie Godwin.
"They were married by the end of that summer."
I whistled appreciatively. "You're quite a matchmaker. Did you go to the wedding?"
"Would a tragic heroine pass up her meatiest scene? Besides, I was the maid of honor."
As I opened the door to get out, I briefly considered asking her whether she'd caught the bridal bouquet, but decided I wouldn't enjoy being dumped in a mud puddle.
Excerpted from Bullets For Macbeth by Marvin Kaye. Copyright © 1976 Marvin Kaye. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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