THE two friends parted. Kate hurried towards the theatre with her purchase. She pushed the thought of Johnny West to the back of her mind. She consoled herself with the thought that Johnny was never very serious about anything for very long. And she had her mind on the plot of a short story she hoped to submit to the “Weekly Post”.
She had arranged to meet Nesbo in the deserted back stage area of the theatre. The doorman let her in and she made her way through the gloom and shadows and down a steep wooden stairway into the basement of the theatre, her footsteps loud and echoing in the silence.
As she reached the bottom of the stairs, facing her was a trestle table, and on the table was what she thought at first was a coffin a long, plain wooden box.
“At last!” The voice behind her made her jump. “Where have you been?”
Nesbo walked towards the table and laid one hand on the box. He turned to Kate.
“Did you get what I wanted?”
“Yes,” Kate said. “That’s why it took so long. It was quite a search to find what you wanted.” She handed one of the two shoe boxes to Nesbo.
He quickly opened it and took out a shoe.
“Excellent!” he said. “They will do perfectly.” He reached for the other box. He placed the four red shoes on top of the long wooden casket and examined each shoe carefully.
“I like the white bows. A good touch. They make them more individual, more distinctive. Oh, yes.” He was nodding happily to himself.
Kate was pleased that something could lighten his mood.
“We looked everywhere for them,” she said.
He glanced sharply at her.
“We? What do you mean?” His words were as sharp as his glance.
“Delia,” Kate answered. “Delia went with me,” she said quickly.
Nesbo’s face flushed with anger.
“Delia knows you bought two pairs of identical shoes for the illusion?” he hissed. His voice came in a hoarse whisper. “The whole secret of this illusion is the shoes. The shoes!”
He took a step nearer to her, his eyes blazing.
“I will know how it is done, Will Griffiths will know how it is done, and you will know how it is done. No-one else. But Delia will have a clue. She will only have to mention . . .”
“Nesbo, I’m sorry!” Kate cried. “I didn’t think. Delia won’t say anything. You know you can trust her.”
“I trusted you. That should have been sufficient.”
“I know. It was stupid of me. I’ll speak to Delia.”
“Ah!” He picked up the shoes and began putting them back in their boxes. “Delia has her mind and her wits elsewhere. She only has to mention it to Reynolds while they’re billing and cooing.”
He was angry again. He suddenly smacked the top of the box with the palm of his hand.
“She’s had her head turned like a silly schoolgirl by this Max character. And what do we know about him? By all accounts, he’s a philanderer. Delia won’t be the first woman to be taken in by him, from what I hear.”
He lapsed into silence and stood looking at her and Kate suddenly felt sorry for him. She could see the unhappiness in his eyes. If he was jealous of Max Reynolds because he had feelings for Delia himself, why had he never made any attempt to tell her? Or perhaps he was just genuinely concerned for her as a dear friend.
She knew that behind the hard exterior he was a thoughtful, caring person. Or was it as Delia suggested, that Nesbo felt threatened by Max’s success?
Perhaps this new illusion, sawing a woman in half, was a desperate attempt to maintain his status. Kate looked again at the coffin-like box. Being cut in half by a desperately unhappy man? Well, at least she might be able to concoct a short story about it if she survived.