The first book in the magical Esther Diamond mystery series...
When mysterious mystical disappearances disrupt her career, struggling actress Esther Diamond teams up with Maximillian Zadok, an eccentric elderly wizard whose day job is protecting the Big Apple from Evil. Meanwhile, the sexy NYPD detective investigating the disappearances fears that Esther and Max may be a bigger problem than the vanishing performers.
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By Laura Resnick
LunaCopyright © 2005 Laura Resnick
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Idespise movies where the heroine is threatened and simply ignores it, acting as if there's nothing to worry about. I mean, if you got a mysterious note telling you not to go into the attic, and you knew that the last person who'd gone into the attic had gotten into a whole lot of trouble — well, would you really just shrug, toss the note aside, and head for the attic without another thought?
If you would, then frankly, you're the kind of person who deserves what's going to happen to you up there.
So naturally, when I received my mysterious threatening note, I gave it my full attention.
It arrived a few days after Golly Gee disappeared.
The night of the performance the stage manager had brought the curtain down in front of a surprised audience, the hapless house manager had announced that there'd been an accident backstage and the show was over, and we had spent the rest of the evening giving our statements to the police — who were less interested in the case than you might suppose.
Golly wasn't all that stable to begin with, and her recent discovery, during hypnotherapy, that she had been Marilyn Monroe in a previous incarnation had resulted in some very strange behavior, including a marked obsession with the Kennedy family.
The police seemed to think Golly had walked out in the middle of the performance and gone off on some bizarre quest. Since there was no sign of violence or foul play, the good-looking detective who interviewed Joe and me evidently didn't plan to do much more than file a missing persons report if Golly didn't reappear (so to speak) in a couple of days.
I didn't necessarily agree with Detective Lopez's view of the matter, but I hardly knew Golly and certainly couldn't claim to miss her. Besides, with the leading lady missing (and in breach of contract), I finally had that big break I'd been fanta-sizing about since the beginning of rehearsals: I'd be playing Virtue from now on. If, that is, we could get Joe back onstage.
The night Golly vanished, Joe had been too hysterical to give a coherent statement to Detective Lopez — who had, in any case, not seemed to expect much coherence from any of the actors. (I sensed that our being painted green and covered in glitter affected the detective's impression of us.) Joe seemed to blame himself for Golly's disappearance, and he refused to do the show again. Consequently, Matilda was forced to cancel our next few performances while she tried to talk some sense into him. We didn't have an understudy for Joe. He was the show.
We couldn't even get him into the theater for the rehearsal I had requested. I didn't want to go on as Virtue without a complete run-through. For one thing, there had been several changes in the show since my last rehearsal in the role. More importantly, I wanted to make sure I could trust Joe to pull himself together before I let him saw me in half, balance my body on the point of a sword or do the flame-throwing routine with me. Things can go terribly wrong onstage when people lose their concentration. Actors have been stabbed to death while playing Richard III. They've been shot to death with mis-loaded prop guns, as well as strangled to death in malfunctioning harnesses. It's a much riskier profession than you might suppose, and I was determined not to be among the ranks of thespians whose reviews read "R.I.P."
It was in this frame of mind that I read the messages handed to me by the assistant stage manager as I arrived at the theater on Tuesday. The first note informed me that Joe would not be at rehearsal today. The second note advised me that there would be an Equity meeting that afternoon to discuss our circumstances; in other words, the actors would all get together to fret about whether we were going to lose our jobs, as well as to make empty threats about what we'd do to management if they folded the show on us just because a pop singer had gone AWOL and a magician was having a nervous breakdown.
The third note was handwritten on expensive monogrammed paper, initials M.Z. It was written with a black fountain pen in elegant, archaic-looking script. It read:
As you value your life, do not go into the crystal cage. There is Evil among us.
"I'm looking for Detective Lopez," I told the uniformed sergeant at the muster desk. The precinct house was chaotic and noisy, just like in the movies. I had practically sprinted here from the theater on Christopher Street. The desk sergeant sent me upstairs to the squad room, a large, cluttered, overcrowded area painted a vile green.
I spotted Lopez right away. He was sitting at his desk, apparently begging a chubby white man with a loud tie not to force a large, overflowing box of file folders on him. The man, whose expression was irritable, dropped the box on Lopez's desk and walked away. Lopez, looking like he wanted to weep, lowered his head and banged it against his desk a few times.
Perhaps I had come at a bad time.
However, the mysterious note was burning a hole in my pocket, and there was no way I was going to turn around and leave without reporting it to the police.
I took a breath and squared my shoulders as Lopez lifted his head and reached for his ringing phone. After a moment, he cradled the phone between his ear and his shoulder and, still talking, started unpacking the overflowing box. It appeared to contain a lifetime supply of old paperwork — dog-eared, a little dusty and flaking. Frowning, Lopez brushed something away from his face and kept unpacking the box while he continued his phone conversation.
I crossed the room, nearly bumping into someone whose hooker costume looked really authentic, right down to the runny mascara and handcuffs. Lopez, whose gaze was fixed on his mountain of paperwork, didn't see me. His jacket was slung over the back of his chair. He wore a holster over his shirt; the gun inside it looked really authentic, too. I stared at it while he kept talking on the phone.
He had the body of an athlete — soccer or tennis, perhaps, a sport that required lithe muscles and physical grace. He was around thirty years old, and he had a dark, strong, slightly exotic face framed by thick, straight, jet-black hair. His eyes were blue, and just as I was wondering where that trait had come from, I read the nameplate on his desk: Detective Connor Lopez.
"Connor?" I said in surprise. He didn't look like a Connor. He glanced up and saw me. There was no look of recognition, but my use of his name must have made him realize I was there to see him. He gestured to a utilitarian chair next to his desk, and I sat down.
"Uh-huh," he said into the phone. "Yes. No. What time?...
Can't you get it to me any sooner? I need it before I can apply for a warrant."
Someone called across the squad room, "Lopez, line four!" He raised a hand in acknowledgment, then closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead as if it ached. Well, he had banged it rather hard against the desk. "One hour," he said firmly. "No, one hour. Please." He grinned after a moment and said, "I almost love you right now." Then he hung up and said to me, "I'm sorry, miss, I'll be with you in a minute." He hit another phone line and said, "Detective Lopez."
It was clear from his expression a moment later that the call was personal. "Hi. Uh-huh... What?" His expression darkened. Turning away from me, he said, "No, I can't."
Though I could tell he didn't remember me, he had certainly made a memorable impression on the cast of Sorcerer! the night he'd questioned us.
"Okay, you're right," Lopez said to his caller, "I don't want to. Now I have to go. I've got —"
He was interrupted by a voice on the other end of the line, loud enough that even I could hear it. The caller sounded like a woman.
Some of the show's nymphs had been openly interested in him, and although his behavior couldn't be called unprofessional, he'd obviously enjoyed their flirting. He'd been caught off guard by the same sort of interest coming from a couple of the satyrs, but he'd nonetheless been courteous about it.
"No. No. No!" Lopez sounded exasperated. "Look, what part of 'no' didn't you —" He sighed and closed his eyes, listening again. After a moment, he said, "Why do you persecute me like this? Why, why?" A pause. "Besides that."
Two cops hauled someone past me who looked like a rapper. A very annoyed rapper.
"Look, this isn't a good time," Lopez said into the phone.
"Can we —" He winced.
Even I winced. His caller's voice was getting shrill.
Lopez took a deep breath and said, in a voice filled with dark despair, "Mom, I can't talk now. Goodbye... Bye." He scowled and said, "I'm hanging up now. Right now."
The voice was still squawking as Lopez gently placed the receiver in its cradle. Looking a little paler than when I'd arrived, he turned to me and said, "Now, what can I do for you, Miss..."
"Diamond. Esther Diamond. You took my statement Saturday night at the New View Venue on Christopher Street."
"Oh, yeah! Miss Diamond." His gaze traveled over me slowly, then he grinned. "You look different without all that green body makeup."
"I'm also wearing a lot more clothes today," I said, noticing where his eyes lingered.
He raised them to my face. "And much less glitter."
"Have you made any progress on the case, Detective?"
"That singer who disappeared — Gosh Darn?"
He smiled at me, and I realized he'd been kidding. "She's still missing," he said. "I know."
"No ransom demands?" he asked. "No."
"Have you heard from her family? I've tried to get a hold of her mother, but —"
"Oh, I doubt that Golly was of woman born," I said.
"Um, her mother's in Europe just now. Golly's manager got a hold of her yesterday. She hasn't heard from her, either." I shrugged. "She's really missing, Detective."
He nodded. "I've filed a missing persons report."
"It'll be compared to any likely Jane Doe that turns up."
"You mean, like...a body?"
He said, "Her family — or her manager — might consider hiring a private investigator."
"Anything else?" he asked.
"Yes. This is a little strange...." He raised one black brow. "Last week you told me that a woman had vanished into thin air in front of hundreds of people —"
"Not hundreds. Our house wasn't that good."
"But you're afraid that what you're going to tell me now is a little strange? I can hardly wait."
I pulled out the note and handed it to him. He read it over briefly and then frowned at me.
"This came in the mail?"
"No. Someone left it at the theater for me."
"Did you get a description?" he asked.
"The assistant stage manager, who accepted the envelope from him, says he was a short, slightly chubby, white man, at least seventy years old. Lots of white hair and a beard. He wore a fedora and a duster."
"You know. One of those long coats they wear in cowboy movies."
"Oh. Anything else?"
"I don't think so."
"As you value your life, do not go into the crystal cage," Lopez read aloud. "There is Evil among us." It has a certain ring to it. But why does this guy think you intend to go into the cage?"
I explained. When I was done, Lopez studied me speculatively. His silence got on my nerves, so I asked, "Do you think it's important?"
"The note," I snapped.
"Well, it provides a new theory."
"So you no longer think Golly walked off on her own?"
"Actually, that's exactly what I think happened. According to the statements I took, Miss Gee is a temperamental twenty-three-year-old who's got less fame than she wants and less sense than she needs."
"That hardly —"
"She's got cash flow problems, and she's deep in debt — mostly to plastic surgeons and diet clinics. She's also got a police record — mostly minor drug busts. Two of the Kennedys have had to slap restraining orders on her, and —"
"You've checked up on her!" I shouldn't have sounded so surprised. He looked insulted.
"Yes, Miss Diamond, I did. But now I find myself obliged to concentrate on more mundane matters — assault, murder, armed robbery, extortion and so on." As he gestured to the mountain of paperwork on his desk, a clerk dropped another armload of files onto it. Lopez stared after her with a tragic expression.
"But what about the note?" I said. "Do you think — ?"
"I think it's a hell of a promotional opportunity for an off-Broadway show with overextended producers and an ambitious understudy."
"You think I had something to do with this?"
"I have to consider all possibilities."
Okay, I had seen enough cop shows on TV to know that. So I tried not to take offense. "Look, I'm not reaping any benefits from this fiasco. Joe Herlihy is refusing to perform the show again."
"He didn't get along with Golly Gee, did he? She insulted him, humiliated him, upstaged him and accused him of attempting to set her on fire that very night."
"Surely you don't think Joe is behind this?"
Excerpted from Disappearing Nightly by Laura Resnick Copyright © 2005 by Laura Resnick. Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This
“Swift, fresh, and inventive, DISAPPEARING NIGHTLY is Laura Resnick at her witty best. Not to be missed!”—Mary Jo Putney, New York Times bestselling author
“A paranormal screwball comedy adventure. Light, happy, fantastically funny!”—Jennifer Cruise, New York Times bestselling author
“A delightful mélange of amateur sleuth mystery, romance and urban fantasy.... Esther Diamond, (is) a protagonist as quirky as Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse…and with the sex appeal of Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake.”—Explorations