THERE’S some post here if you’d like to take it.” The doorman of the Regency Theatre in Huddersfield held a number of envelopes as Kate arrived at the theatre entrance.
“Yes, thank you.” She shuffled through them. There were two for her. One had an American stamp, date-marked New York. Exciting. Obviously Johnny. On the other envelope, forwarded by the company’s agents, her name was typewritten. She had submitted a short romantic story to a weekly magazine a couple of months ago. Could this be a verdict?
There was a small lilac envelope, slightly scented, for Max Reynolds, care of the theatre, an envelope for
L. Nesbo Esq. in thin, black spidery writing, and an envelope addressed in childlike writing to The Manager, Jolly Good Company. She’d give that to Cyril Broom.
She decided to make her postal deliveries before opening her own mail, delaying the pleasure, or disappointment. As it happened, she made her first delivery immediately.
A voice called behind her, “Good morning, Miss Flynn.”
She turned to see the tall figure of Max Reynolds. He smiled at her.
“Hello, Max. That’s lucky. Here.” She handed him the lilac envelope.
He took it and looked at it. He winked at her as he slid his thumb under the flap and took out a single sheet of lilac notepaper. He quickly read it and looked up at Kate.
“From a lady. She asks for a signed photograph and suggests taking tea together. I shall send the photograph, taken some ten years ago, I’m afraid, and politely decline the invitation.”
Without thinking, Kate blurted out, “Doesn’t Delia get jealous?”
“Heavens, no! These ladies, fewer and fewer, I might add, have a romantic dream about the man they’ve seen on stage singing love songs in the flower-decked meadows of Switzerland. That man doesn’t exist. Delia knows that.”
“Yes, of course.”
“No, it’s not Delia who’s jealous. It’s Nesbo. He’s jealous and, I’m afraid, angry.”
Kate said nothing. It wasn’t a situation she could understand. Sometimes two people just couldn’t get on, but she felt a deep loyalty to Nesbo. She knew that he could be gentle and caring, as well as irascible and moody.
She found Nesbo in the room Cyril Broom was using as an office.
Nesbo was huddled in his Abercrombie overcoat reading a book. Cyril had the “Racing Post” spread across a small desk, a pencil in his hand.
Nesbo looked up as Kate came in.
“This chap, Houdini,” he said, his finger tapping the book. “A clever chap, very talented. Died last year in unfortunate circumstances. I think I’ve worked out one or two of his deceptions in escapology. We may be buying some chains and padlocks, Miss Flynn.”
“Oh, yes,” Nesbo continued. “Perhaps I’ll be the new Houdini, the great showman.” He tapped the book. “Now, for example, in Chicago I think it was, a newspaper challenged him to escape from special padlocks they had made.”
He glanced at Cyril.
“Leave your horses, Cyril, and listen to this. I may use it in the act.”
Cyril looked up from his careful studying of racing form.
“Go on, then,” he said.
Nesbo went on.
“Houdini was thoroughly searched before he was tightly chained, body, hands and feet, by the chief of the Chicago Police Department who closed the padlocks and put the key in his pocket. Houdini was then seated on a chair and a screen was placed around him.”
“Then with one bound he was free?” Cyril suggested.
“No!” Nesbo exclaimed. “He’s a showman, Cyril. For half an hour nothing happened. Complete silence. Worried, they removed the screen and there he was still tightly bound, his face white and strained, his eyes bulging.” Nesbo paused.
“What happened?” Kate said.
“His wife was there,” Nesbo went on, “distraught. She ran to him, kissed him and then rushed out of the room in tears. The screens were replaced. Five minutes later Houdini stepped out, the chains and padlocks piled on the chair.” Nesbo looked at Kate. “And I think I know how he did it.”
“How?” Kate and Cyril asked at the same time.
“There was a duplicate key. Mrs Houdini passed it to him as she kissed him.”
For a second there was silence. Then Cyril burst into laughter, slapping his knee.
“Oh, Kate! The look on your face! Oh, dear me!”
Nesbo smiled his slow, rare smile.
“Don’t worry, Miss Flynn, I’ve devised an alternative solution.”
She smiled back at him.
“I’m very glad to hear it.” If Nesbo could immerse himself in new, startling illusions for the act, it might help relieve the moody behaviour of the past few weeks. Perhaps Houdini would be his escape. That would be better for everybody.