By Sally Carpenter
I’m sharing chapter one of the next Sandy Fairfax book, “The Quirky Quiz Show Caper.” In this excerpt, I finally introduce a character that Sandy has mentioned several times in the previous books. Much of the story is based on these two guys. Unlike the other books in the series, I finally have the body up front! Hope you enjoy it. I’m looking at an early 2016 release date.
LOS ANGELES 1993
Chapter 1: Monday, Monday
Strange that the music I’d made popular in the 1970s sounded unbearably cheesy when played on a four-manual Wurlitzer theater organ. For a few moments I stood in the center aisle of the art deco auditorium (built in the 1930s, fallen into disrepair, and restored decades later) and listened to the music while the nine Greek muses watched me from their wall murals. Overhead huge crystal chandeliers hung from the soaring ceiling, not the best decorating choice here in earthquake-prone Southern California. Were my songs really that smaltzy, or was the organist deliberately sabotaging the music? I believed the latter. The organist, seated on the organ bench on my left facing the stage, had his back to me. But he couldn’t see me anyway, not with the house lights off and only the stage work lights on. His slim fingers danced effortlessly over the keyboards. Much as I hated to admit it, this guy was good.
The lush wine-red carpet muffled my footsteps as I limped my way up the aisle, the cane in my hand slowing me down. I climbed the stairs at the front of the stage, stepped up from behind and poked the organist in the ribs.
Warren yelled and nearly jumped into the overhead catwalks. I stepped around to the back of the organ to face him.
He scowled. “Ernest, what are you doing here?”
“Is that any way to greet your brother?”
“I’m very busy. And you know I hate interruptions when I’m practicing.”
Warren hadn’t changed since the last time I’d seen him. Same short, nerdy haircut. Same fastidiously trimmed beard and moustache. Same natty suit and tie (in contrast to my attire of jeans, casual shirt, windbreaker and blond ponytail). At age thirty-five, a mere three years younger than myself, his dishwater blond hair sported only a touch of gray and the hairline a bit of recession. A few creases in his ruggedly handsome features. Eyes a darker blue than mine. Same sour disposition.
“You’re not practicing hard enough,” I said. “You sound like a cross between Lawrence Welk and Liberace.”
“Hmmmp.” Warren fiddled with the sheet music on the organ stand. “The so-called greatest hits of Sandy Fairfax.” He pronounced my stage name as if it burned his tongue to say it. “Same three basic chords in all the songs. A six-year-old beginning piano student could play this.”
“Fine. You go on home and I’ll find a six-year-old to fill in for you.”
“How can you stand to sing this drivel?”
“This drivel, as you call it, has paid for my house and a pretty decent lifestyle.”
“As well the pot and the booze and the women and the bail money and the drugs.”
“I never did drugs. Not hard drugs. Maybe a few tabs of LSD.”
Warren eyed the cane in my hand. “What happened to your leg? Did you get your foot caught in a bar door at closing time?”
“Ha ha. Last week I was on a cruise ship and got in a fight with a murderer.”
“That sounds like something you’d do. You never outgrew playing that kid spy on TV.”
The price of fame. After starring in the 1970s hit TV series Buddy Brave, Boy Sleuth back in my late teens, people still think I’m nothing more than a kid cop, a prom date P.I.
“I did so chase a killer. You can ask Celeste. She’ll tell you all about it. Our sister did a week of shows with me onboard the SS Zodiac and she had a grand time playing my drivel, as you call it.”
I leaned forward and rested my forearms on the organ lid. The grand instrument sported excessive gold-plated filigrees against the polished white wood frame. Warren pushed me off. He removed a handkerchief from his inside jacket pocket and wiped the spot I’d touched.
“Ernest, why are you here bothering me?”
“I was in the area so I thought I’d drop by and say hello. I was upstairs in the office talking with the manager about my appearance at the Buddy Brave double feature.”
His eyes narrowed. “You’ll be here on Saturday? Nobody told me.”
“He wants me to say a few words at the start, and then we’ll do a Q-and-A between the films.”
“You did this to cut into my playing time, didn’t you? Even as a child you had to upstage me.”
“Warren, whenever you star in two feature films, you’re welcome to run the show any way you want.”
“Are you finished gloating?”
“Actually, I stopped by to tell you I’ll be at the family dinner tonight, so don’t faint from shock when you see me.”
He began shutting down the stops. “Seems peculiar that you’ve suddenly taken an interest in the Farmington clan.”
“It’s not as if all of you stood by me back in the day when I needed support.”
“Maybe if you hadn’t shown up drunk at any number of family gatherings-”
Now I was miffed. “All right, all right, forget that. We’ve got a crises to handle.”
He stuffed his sheet music into a briefcase. “What do you mean, we? Father will have to disband his orchestra unless he can raise the money to float another season. How do you intend to fix that?”
“I don’t know yet. I haven’t given it much thought. But don’t worry, I’ll think of something.” He glared at me. “What?”
“Ernest, please don’t quote lines from your stupid show at me.”
I hate whenever that happened. It just slipped out without thinking. Even though I’d finished filming that goofy series fourteen years ago I still couldn’t get it out of my brain.
“Apparently you’ve watched it enough times to know the dialogue.”
“My kids are the ones who eat it up. They think their Uncle Ernest is the silliest thing on cable reruns.”
“I’m so happy I amuse them.” I laid on the sarcasm as thick as mayo on a deli sandwich.
He put his organ footwear into a shoe bag and slipped on his regular footwear. “So if you’re coming tonight, should we order an extra case of beer?”
“Very funny. I’m missing my A.A. group tonight just so I can attend this family powwow. I’ve quit drinking but you wouldn’t know since you haven’t bothered to call me in a while.”
“Any time I want to keep up with what you’re doing, I pick up the National Enquirer. Your fame is the family curse. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have errands to run before dinner.”
He pushed the button that activated the hydraulic lift beneath the organ. The platform holding the instrument shuttered and descended into the basement. I was standing too close to the organ and I stumbled, nearly falling in the pit with it. The organ disappeared into the bowels of the theater, and the floor boards automatically slid back into place, covering the hole. I wanted to shout out a parting insult to Warren but he’d never hear me over the grinding machinery. No matter. We’d meet again soon enough.
The quickest way to the parking lot behind the theater where I’d left my car was not the way I’d entered. The Terpsichore Theater in Van Nuys was dark (no shows) on Mondays, so the multitude of outside doors were locked. The only way in was to go up an exterior staircase and through a side door near the administrative offices on the mezzanine level. Although I’d never given a concert here (and why not, I’d like to know), I knew my way around the building. As the theater’s long-time house organist, Warren had in the past procured backstage passes for family members and he’d given me tours of the backstage. Some of the basement doors were locked from the outside but anyone inside could get out.
I wormed my way through the labyrinth backstage of narrow, dark hallways. No wonder old theaters had ghosts-a performer could get lost forever in these winding passageways. I opened the door to a stairwell, snapped on the light switch, and descended. The concrete walls shut out all other sounds. The door at the bottom opened to the basement level. The hall split with a branch to the left. To my right stood the door to the basement storage room for the organ; my brother would be leaving this way too. To my left was the elevator but the exit I wanted was a few yards straight ahead at the end of this corridor. But from the left-hand hallway came the sound of people running and a scream.
I turned my head to listen, as my left ear had lost some of its hearing during my boisterous concert days. Footsteps echoed through the passage. How odd. Nobody else should be here. Warren was the only performer who was here on Mondays; he worked in his practice time around his teaching schedule. Maybe he had arranged to meet somebody.
“Warren?” I called. “Is that you?” Curious, I detoured into the split-off.
A flickering fluorescent ceiling lighting cast a cold glow. Doors for the dressing, makeup and costume rooms lined the lengthy corridor. A young man, his ample girth ready to explode out of his tee-shirt and pants, staggered toward me. He weaved about, ready to topple. Was he drunk? Sick? He flailed his arms and made odd gurgling sounds.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
He opened a fist and something dropped on the tile floor with a “clink.” He fell forward. I dropped my cane and reached out to catch him. I staggered; his weight pushed me back against the wall. I couldn’t hold his hefty frame and I slid down the wall, still holding the man. I landed on my butt.
That’s when I noticed the knife stuck in his back.