Jordan's second Polly Pepper mystery (after 2007's Remains to Be Scene) delivers a fun romp through the underworld of regional theater. Polly, a Hollywood actress of a "certain age," is cast as the lead in a revival of the musical comedy Mame, newly set in post-Katrina New Orleans. Polly admires Karen Richards, the play's young, talented director, and Sharon Fletcher, one of her co-stars-so Polly is understandably distressed when Karen gets killed and Sharon is fingered for the crime. Along with her devoted son and her maid, Polly sets out to find who really brought down the curtain on Karen. Even among a cast of such well-developed, eccentric characters, Polly steals the show, drinking champagne constantly and even naming her mansion's staircase the Scarlett O'Hara Memorial Staircase. Jordan's entertaining plot moves briskly and its plucky heroine is sure to charm old fans and win new ones. (Feb.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Final Curtainby (R.T.) Richard Tyler Jordan
Polly Pepper, the legendary superstar of television's golden age, is finally back in the entertainment headlines. She's landed the title role in a new production of the musical Mame, and though it's off-off-off-off Broadway (Glendale, California, actually), Polly's bank accountand her egoneed the job. There's one minor detour, though: on the second… See more details below
Polly Pepper, the legendary superstar of television's golden age, is finally back in the entertainment headlines. She's landed the title role in a new production of the musical Mame, and though it's off-off-off-off Broadway (Glendale, California, actually), Polly's bank accountand her egoneed the job. There's one minor detour, though: on the second day of rehearsals, wunderkind director Karen Richards turns up dead.
Of course Polly's nose for news needs to know, and though Karen was well liked, it seems some last-minute casting changes did her in. Sadly, Polly's Suspect #1 is her new friend and co-star Sharon Fletcher. Sharon was the last person seen with the deceased director. . .and her Emmy matches the dent in Karen's head.
The more Polly sniffs, the surer she is that Sharon didn't haul off and bash Karen with her Emmy. But the evidence is mounting, and it'll take all of Polly's wits to save the jailed soap star from a murder rap...and a starring role in a real-life drama tentatively entitled Framed!
"Jordan cleverly propels the hilarious plot briskly." I Love a Mystery
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FINAL CURTAINA Polly Pepper Mystery
By R. T. Jordan
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2008 R. T. Jordan
All right reserved.
Chapter One"I'm just a Broadway Baby," television musical/comedy legend Polly Pepper began to sing in a strong, cheerful voice as she pressed the Off button on her cordless telephone and placed the handset on her concert grand piano. She performed an impromptu soft-shoe across the carpeted floor of the great room at Pepper Plantation, her Bel Air mansion. With a smile as wide as the Wal-Mart happy face on a price-busting day, Polly skipped and twirled and finished the song, belting out "... in a great ... big ... Broad-way ... show-oh." She held the last note for a long moment, long enough to grab the attention of her still-living-at-home adult son, Tim, who rushed into the room.
"Did I hear 'Broadway'? You got a show?"
"Yep!" Polly opened her arms and hugged the light of her life. "But I'm more of a Broadway maybe," she amended.
"Out-of-town tryout?" Tim pressed.
Polly nodded. "Sorta."
Polly's maid and best friend, Placenta, had also heard the commotion and rushed to her employer's side just in time to hear the words "Broadway" and "maybe." Her brown eyes locked with Polly's blue ones. "Let me guess. Your smart-ass agent J.J. booked your usual summer gig and says there's a chance this one may crawl into New York?"
Polly waited for Placenta's other accusatory shoe to drop.
"Sure. And there's a chance that Harry Connick Jr. will let me iron his underpants."
Polly made a face and whined, "For once in your life, try to practice positive thinking. Be happy for me. For you too. These summer tours pay your salary. Musical revivals are all the rage on Broadway, and J.J. says that he's heard through the grapevine that if this production is half as good as expected, I can end up on a billboard over Times Square!"
Tim folded his arms across his chest. "A revival? What moth-eaten show are they dragging out this season? La Cage Au Folles?"
"Getting warm," Polly said.
"Hello, Dolly!? Mame?"
"Bingo." Polly clapped her hands. "Four solid weeks in one of my all-time favorite roles! You're too young to remember, but I was a sensation as the Belle of Beekman Place when I played the Music Tent in Manassas."
"A quarter century ago," Placenta reminded her.
"The critics stumbled all over their typewriter keys to find superlatives to describe my performance," Polly countered.
"What's a typewriter?" Tim teased.
"And don't forget that split week in Little Rock. Audiences cried when I was suddenly widowed by John Davidson."
"Because they were stuck with you and Rita Moreno onstage for the rest of the night," Placenta said. "And where, pray tell, does New York fit into this improbable dream?"
Polly hesitated. "All I know is the new Sondheim show is apparently so depressing it's actually scaring away the Broadway tourist trade. They need a fun and familiar placeholder at the Palace Theatre until Snakes on a Plane-The Musical opens in February. The producers are looking at Mame. Please, dear Lord, let me get to Broadway before God brings down the curtain on my life."
For reasons beyond her control, starring on The Great White Way eluded Polly. Over the years, four musicals had been written expressly for her, but they either closed in Boston or fell apart while in rehearsal.
Now, as Tim watched his mother's joy turn to self-doubt, he decided to act as if she were a Tony Award winner. "Another op'ning, another show ..." he sang and faked a wild and crazy Steve Martin-esque tap dance over to the wine cooler.
"Hold your hats and hallelujah, Polly's gonna show it to you," Placenta sang a lyric from "Rose's Turn." "Broadway, here we come," she announced, helping to cheer the atmosphere. "By way of-"
"Em, Glendale," Polly reluctantly admitted. "We're at the Galaxy Theatre for the summer."
Tim and Placenta both stared at Polly.
Glendale, California, had only one thing to recommend it: Forest Lawn Cemetery, which boasted the remains of more stars than there were on the devil's rotisserie spit. After one had seen the celebrity homes in Beverly Hills, and found their favorite stars' names embedded on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame, the natural progression was to visit the plots and vaults where their famous bodies or ashes were dumped. Forest Lawn was a tranquil plot of acreage where, among the sweeping lawns and clusters of evergreen trees, headstones served as reminders that Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, and even Walt Disney-who everyone knew was collecting freezer burn somewhere in the bowels of Disneyland-all had expiration dates on their passports to earth. Otherwise, Glendale was the sort of town where the residents considered the Olive Garden fine dining.
"I know it's not Boston or Chicago, or San Francisco," Polly said. "But it's a job."
Despite the grim prospect of having to spend his summer shuttling Polly to and from work each day, Tim tried to sound enthusiastic. "You'll kill the audiences," he said as he pulled out a cold bottle of Veuve Clicquot from the cooler. "Placenta," he said, "call Wolfy and reserve our usual table. We need to celebrate." Tim was actually pleased for his mother, but was also delighted that he wouldn't have to spend the hottest part of the year sweltering in St. Louis, or Kansas City, where Polly usually toured during the summer.
Polly smiled as she once again began to feel that her career was on the upswing. "My personal psychic at Futuretense-dot-com recently e-mailed me and said that after all the dark shadows and negative energy that have stalked moi during the past few months-what with dead movie stars cluttering up my last film location-it's definitely time for a big shift in my planetary fortunes."
"Famous people die just like run-of-the-mill folk." Tim popped the cork from the champagne bottle. "This is Hollywood. Everyone knows a killer or two."
"But they're usually agents and personal publicists," Placenta said.
As Tim poured three flutes of champagne he added, "You've had your once-in-a-lifetime encounter with real-life blood and guts-if you don't count that week on your show working with Vicki Lawrence-and you lived to tell about it. The fact that you're now the main topic of conversation at every cocktail crush in town is publicity you could never afford to buy. The notoriety is money at the theater box office."
"I admit there were moments when tracking down the killer was actually fun," Polly said. "But it was scary too. Like Faye Dunaway's new face. Still, I've promised that I'd never interfere with police work again."
Polly was suddenly quiet as she considered her pledge to the new man in her life, Detective Randal Archer. After years of self-imposed exile from romance, Polly met Detective Archer during the investigation into the murder of television legend and her archrival, Sedra Stone.
Tim raised his glass and the trio simultaneously clinked their Waterford crystal flutes together. "To the legendary Polly Pepper and best Auntie Mame ever," he began. "As you descend on Glendale, may all the bodies you encounter be breathing ... and holding tickets to see Polly Pepper live onstage!"
Polly gave her son a playful shove. "Slaughtering an audience is what I do best, dear. It's why I get the big bucks." She paused. "Although they certainly are tight with a dollar at the theater. J.J. said that with the exception of a piano and a couple of strings and percussion, the orchestra is canned. The sets are mere suggestions for the imagination. There's no budget for new costumes either. I'm stuck with Kathie Lee Gifford's stinky wardrobe from the road company of The Vagina Monologues."
Placenta took a long sip of her drink and asked, "Who else is in the cast?"
Polly furrowed her eyebrows as she tried to recall. "A couple of soap opera stars, I think. Never heard of 'em, but apparently they're dying to work with me."
"You can recall verbatim entire paragraphs from old reviews, but you can't remember what J.J. said about your cast just a few moments ago?" Tim complained. "For the role of the adult Patrick Dennis, please tell me it's Trent Dawson from As the World Turns! Or better yet, Don Diamont from The Young and the Restless! Ooh! Make that Paul Satterfield from One Life to Live! I think I'm going to love working in the theater again."
Polly and Placenta looked at each other and nodded, knowing that Tim would be in love before the first week of rehearsal was over.
Tim giggled. "It's about time that Andy Hardy found romance again, or at least a summer fling. You have a sexy police detective. I'll settle for a Days of Our Lives soap stud."
* * *
As had become her custom before leaving home to go to work, Polly Pepper stood in the center of the great room of her mansion and took a nostalgic look at the awards displayed on lighted glass shelves. "Lord, forget about keeping your eye on the sparrow. Keep 'em both open wide on my Emmys," she prayed, as a wave of separation anxiety washed over her.
It was late June, and Polly was heading out for what she euphemistically called her "mortgage tour." Although this time she was only going a few miles to Glendale, she generally traveled to regions of the country where, thanks to perennial rebroadcasts on local cable stations of her classic '80s television variety show, Polly Pepper was still a star.
Beyond the age to believably play a virginal singing nun-turned-nanny, and tired of working alongside smudgy and obnoxious little girls as moppet orphans, Polly would own the stage this year as Mame Dennis Burnside, one of theater's most enduring roles for a star of a certain age. She dismissed the denunciation of her few critics who, upon hearing that Polly Pepper had been cast in this classic, bellowed, "The role must be played by a great lady-like Angela Lansbury. Polly's a clown!"
But being a clown was what made Polly famous in the first place. No one made audiences laugh at everyday situations and the absurdities of life the way Polly Pepper did. Throngs of devoted fans would surely drop their barbecue briquettes on a hot summer's night and drive to the theater to see her cavorting onstage. At least that was the hope of the Glendale Civic Light Opera.
Polly looked at her wristwatch and sighed. In a few minutes Tim would honk the horn of Polly's Park Ward Rolls-Royce and whisk her over the hill to the theater. She squared her shoulders and blew a kiss to the room. "Be good while Mommy's away," she whispered, and closed the door behind her.
The drive from Bel Air to Glendale was hardly a whisk. In Southern California, every hour is rush hour, and when Tim finally found the theater the parking lot was full. He let his mother and Placenta out at the curb and he went in search of a space to park on the street. As Polly ascended the steps and walked into the forecourt of the old theater, she was reminded of being in an ancient Egyptian temple. "They don't make theaters like this one anymore," she said to Placenta, who walked slightly ahead of Polly and pulled open the entry door.
Entering the lobby, Polly stopped for a moment to look around and absorb the intoxicating scent and feeling that she always embraced when working in a theatrical shrine.
Polly's euphoria was abruptly shattered, however, when Gerold Goss, the theater's artistic director, appeared from the men's room. Upon suddenly seeing Polly, he began yelling. "You're four hours late! Just because you're the famous Polly Pepper doesn't give you the right to treat the rest of the cast with disrespect. Their time is just as valuable as yours!"
Polly was stunned. She looked at her wristwatch. "Honey, I'm five minutes early. It's only quarter to two!" she stuttered. "Everyone knows that I'm the most prompt star in Hollywood."
Gerold ground his teeth and the veins at his neck began to pulsate. "Rehearsal from ten to two does not mean one-fifty!"
Polly was mortified. "Ten to two. Ha!" she laughed. "I thought it meant starting at ten minutes to two."
"No one has your phone number!" Gerold growled. "Your agent wouldn't return my calls! It occurred to me that at your age you might be dead. Wishful thinking!"
"My age? I'm expressing my deep regret to you for the little misunderstanding, and promise that it will never happen again. But I'm a little concerned about your imperious attitude." She squared her shoulders. "Stars are people too. Sometimes we make mistakes. I'm sorry and I won't be tardy again. Mea culpa already!"
Polly turned to leave. "If you'll kindly direct me to the rehearsal room, I'd like to express my apologies to the director and the rest of the cast."
"They're all on the stage," Gerold yelled as Polly began to rush away. "You and other over-the-hill stars should be on your knees giving thanks for another chance to be in a show. I didn't even want you for this role. Now you act like a diva! There's no place in the theater for ego!" He turned and stormed away in the opposite direction. As he retreated, he nearly collided with Tim, who had just entered the theater lobby.
Polly was now in a panic and rushed for the double doors to the auditorium. "That damn J.J. gave us the wrong schedule," she called back to Tim, who, along with Placenta, was following at Polly's heels.
"Your mama's just been given thirty lashes from that schmo Gerold Goss," Placenta said. "Seems we were supposed to be here from ten this morning until two in the afternoon."
"I thought the call time was odd," Tim said, trying to catch up to his mother, who went barreling into the auditorium.
Polly rushed down the aisle and threw out her arms as she called out, "Everybody! Everybody! I'm mortified that I missed our first day! Please, please forgive me! I'm never ever late for anything, especially anything as important as work!" When she arrived at the stage, the entire cast stood to greet her. Now out of breath, Polly clutched her chest and walked up to Karen Richards, the director. "Ms. Richards," she panted, "this is a horrible way to begin our relationship. Please don't be harsh on me. You'll see that I'm the most professional artist with whom you'll ever work. I promise."
Karen smiled warmly and shook her head. "Not a problem, Miss Pepper. First of all, I'm your most ardent admirer." She reached out to shake Polly's hand. "In fact my college thesis was an examination of your amazing career. I even have the boxed DVD collector's edition of the first season of The Polly Pepper Playhouse. I'm dying for the next season to be released."
Polly exhaled a deep sigh of relief.
Karen continued. "You've played this role exactly three hundred and seventy-seven times over the years. All to rave reviews. You missed one little rehearsal today. I'm not at all concerned. Let me introduce you to your cast."
Karen knew precisely how to treat divas in order to induce mutual trust and respect. In Polly's case, however, Karen was a genuine fan. She had set out on her career path with the mission of one day working with Polly Pepper. This was her golden moment. "This is Emily Hutcherson, our Vera Charles and your 'bosom buddy,'" Karen said as she singled out Emily from the group.
Both actresses smiled and shook each other's hand. "Lovely to meet you, Emily," Polly said. "You know you really have the best role in the show."
"It's not the lead," Emily said through gritted teeth.
"No, it's not, honey." Polly returned Emily's frosty greeting.
Karen continued. "Marshall Nash is our Beauregard. Sharon Fletcher is Gloria Upson. Charlotte Bunch will be playing Agnes Gooch. Hiroaki Goldfarb is Ito. And here's little Ward Stewart, your adorable nephew Patrick." As Karen introduced the entire principle cast, Polly was overwhelmed by their graciousness. No one other than Emily Hutcherson seemed to mind that the star had nearly missed the entire first day. However, she again apologized to each of them for her untoward and totally out-of-character behavior.
Karen looked at her watch. "Okay, gang," she said. "Thanks for a terrific first day." She glanced at Polly. "I'll see all of you back here tomorrow at ten A.M."
Excerpted from FINAL CURTAIN by R. T. Jordan Copyright © 2008 by R. T. Jordan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
R. T. Jordan is a senior publicist with the Walt Disney Studios. As a novelist, he often writes under the name Ben Tyler. He is the author of the first Polly Pepper mystery, Remains to be Scene.
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