Exclusive Excerpt: Mask for a Diva (Stan Kraychik Mystery Book 4) by Grant Michaels

Excerpt:

“Jonathan!’’ cried the small woman.

Me? My name is Stan. I looked behind me. No one was there.

“Jonathan!” she called out again in a high raspy voice. She motioned me toward the car, so I went.

She smiled brightly at me, although her eyes were concealed by wraparound sunglasses as dark as a bandit’s mask. “I forgot to send word,” she said. “Parker stopped driving last month. Can you imagine? I expected some kind of natural calamity would follow, but the only thing that happened is that I’m driving myself now.”

I stared blankly at her. She was easily over seventy years old, spare as a sparrow, and pale, wearing a white cotton sun dress with big black polka dots. She could have been idling on a boulevard in Monte Carlo, awaiting some prince to dash from a casino, laden with bounty, and settle in next to her.

“Well, get in,” she said. “Let’s go!”

“But—”

“We’ll send the jitney to pick up the rest of your bags.”

“But—”

‘‘ Quick now. Lunch will be ready.”

Why argue? I placed my two pieces of luggage on the back seat, then opened the door— the automotive equivalent of a Swiss bank vault— and settled myself into the seat. Aromatic leather enveloped me like those ponderous armchairs in gentlemen’s clubs in London and Boston. The woman eased the heavy car away from the curb and slid it into the traffic lane, oblivious to the oncoming cars. We just avoided a collision, and I bristled. She seemed to be looking everywhere but in front of her, and she seemed to be having trouble seeing. Maybe her chic opaque sunglasses were part of the problem.

“What is all this hubbub around the station?” she said.

I told her there’d been an accident on the tracks.

“Oh, dear,” she said. “Was it serious?”

“A young woman apparently killed herself.”

“Oh, dear!” The woman shook her head. “Well there isn’t much we can do for her now.”

She drove the big convertible at a deplorable crawl along the main street, allowing it to weave languidly in response to her tendency to turn the steering wheel in whatever direction her gaze fell at the moment— toward a colorful shop window on the left, toward a pedestrian couple strolling along on the right, toward me sitting beside her. And ever obedient, the car meandered gracefully to the whim of her visual attention. An oncoming vehicle honked loudly at us, and the woman swerved us back into our lane of traffic.

She said, “What an unfortunate welcome for you, Jonathan.”

“Ma’am, my name isn’t Jonathan.”

She smiled. “Oh, don’t worry. I know most theater people have stage names.”

“I’m Stan Kraychik,” I said.

“You’re Czech, then!” she said, as elated as if she had discovered America.

“Yes, but—”

“Well, it’s no wonder you took a British identity. It makes international work so much easier. Although I love Czech theater. It’s so daring and dynamic. Would you prefer me to use your real name?”

She faced me again. The car followed the direction of her eyes and veered slightly to the right. I was just about to put my hand on the steering wheel when she swerved us back on course.

No,” I said. “As long as you’re comfortable with it.”

“Whatever you like,” she replied.

What I would have liked was to know who Jonathan was. And who she was too, for that matter.

The woman said, “I know it’s an outrage to own a car like this, especially with the economy so uncertain, but when Sid died two years back— my dear, I had no idea how wealthy my second husband was— frozen foods, of all things!— and then Parker failed his eye examination last month— and, well, here I am, driving again.”

“I’m afraid that—”

“Oh, don’t be,” she replied. “I’m quite capable.” She pressed her hand warmly over my forearm. “And I’ve always wanted something sporty.”

I gave up on the identity crisis for the moment and tried to share her delight with her new car. “What is it exactly?”

“Don’t you know? It’s a Bentley, dear. A Bentley Continental. It’s made in your country, by the Rolls-Royce people, but it’s much faster— turbocharged, they say— but you’d never know by the way I drive, always below the limit. It’s the one place where I just can’t seem to break the rules. How nice that you’re here, Jonathan!”

“Ma’am, you’ve really mistaken me for someone else.”

The woman turned her gaze toward me and once again the car followed her line of vision. She lowered the sunglasses away from her eyes. They were a clear pale blue. She studied me with the alertness of a fox. This time I did casually place my hand on the leather-wrapped steering wheel to keep us in our lane.

“Now that I look at you,” she said, “you don’t look quite like Jonathan Byers at all. You have the red hair, but …”

“I tried to tell you.”

“And you’re so much better mannered than I remember.”

“There are some who would disagree.”

“Well!” she said, then laughed heartily. “It seems I’ve made a big mistake. How do you do? I’m Daphne Davenport.”

Daphne Davenport? Was that a real name? Or was I caught in a John Waters hallucination of Some Like It Hot?

“I’m Stan Kraychik,” I said.

“Yes, you told me, you naughty boy. Did you just want to ride in my new car? I wouldn’t blame you one bit.”

“Actually I was looking for a taxi.”

Daphne lifted her sunglasses back over her eyes. “Well, now that we’ve met, would you like to have lunch with me?”

“Sure,” I said. People have sex knowing less about each other. “But I’m supposed to report for work at the opera house.”

Daphne said, “I think they’ll make an exception if they know you’re with me. I am the opera festival, after all.”

I looked at her askance. I was still steering us.

“My second husband was Sid Blaustein,” she said.

“As in the Sidney Blaustein Center for the Performing Arts?”

“That’s right, dear. You could say I own the plantation.” She laughed again. She seemed to be amused with her own life.

“But you just said your name is Davenport.”

“Yes. That was my first husband’s name, and I liked the sound of it so much that I kept it through my second marriage.”

“Well, then,” I said. “If it’s not any trouble, let’s have lunch.”

“No false courtesy with me, young man. We’ll have a nice time and pity poor Jonathan who’s missing all this fun.”

Blurb:

A Lambda Literary Awards Finalist in 1995 – New edition includes a 2020 foreword by Author Joe Cosentino.

A Stan Kraychik Mystery, Book 4 – Stan Kraychik, Boston hair-dresser extraordinaire, has been hired as the wig master’s assistant for the upcoming season of a local opera company. The Italian opera diva and aging soprano Marcella Ostinata, whose use of English is determined by her irritation level, will perform the lead. Before Stan heads to Europe to meet his lover’s parents, one of the actresses from the company kills herself by jumping into the path of a train. Befriending the benefactor, Stan moves into a house on the benefactor’s estate, where a very attractive deaf/mute boy takes a fancy to him. As the company heads unsteadily towards opening night, murder threatens the entire festival and Stan finds himself playing a crucial role in a deadly grand opera, performed without music, and with real weapons and killers.

Re-published by ReQueered Tales

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