The Cadillac Diaries: Episode 74

The hum of voices filled the theater as the audience entered and found their seats. While the musicians in the pit began tuning their instruments, backstage behind closed curtains the cast went over lines and warmed up their voices for the performance.

The theater had two auditoriums, the larger for performances and the smaller for rehearsals and set building. Ross left Christopher Callahan’s dressing room and slowly ascended the stairs to the balcony section. As he drew near his private box, he saw that the door was closed but the two guards Franklin and Boon were not at their post.

“Those idiots better be behind that door or I’m getting a whole new security staff,” Ross grumbled.

As he reached for the doorknob, his foot hit against something on the floor. He looked down and saw a small white rook from a chessboard lying on its side in the doorway.

Just as he bent over to pick it up, the door of the box next to his opened and a beautiful young woman with flowing red hair stepped out. When she looked at him and smiled, he saw that her eyes were different colors.

“You!” Ross gasped.

As she disappeared around the corner, Ross followed after her asking,

“What are you doing here?”

He quickly descended the stairs in pursuit just in time to see her slip through a door leading to the smaller auditorium section of the theater. Stopping in the doorway, he checked his watch.

“Thirty minutes before the curtain goes up. Plenty of time,” he told himself.

From the doorway, a narrow hall led to a second door and the smaller auditorium. The woman was standing at the end looking back at Ross. She giggled, pulled open the door then disappeared into the auditorium.

Enjoying the game, Ross smiled and said,

“All right, baby. Get ready cause here I come.”

He let the door close behind him, and as he strode down the hall, he unbuttoned his shirt then pulled it loose from his pants.

Inches away from the auditorium door, he stopped for a moment and remembered.

“You’re in trouble, and I need your help to stop this Captain Bonkers,” Crandall had pleaded.

“I have reason to believe that you’re his next target,” Raymond Slats warned.

Ross shook his head clear,

“You’re being silly. King doesn’t have the spine to turn on you,” he told himself.

Ross seized the knob and pulled the door open. When he stepped into the cold auditorium, he stood for a moment in the darkness waiting for his eyes to adjust.

After a few moments, he still could not distinguish shapes. He dared not move forward into the blackness.

“Hello?” he called out.

Slowly, faint calliope music began to play with a deep thumping sound like an old Victrola. When the sound grew increasingly loud, Ross turned back to the door behind him and found it locked.

He jerked his head toward the darkness demanding,

“What’s going on here?”

Suddenly a spotlight kicked on, casting a beam of pale yellow light. Ross froze in horror when he saw Franklin, one of his security guards, strung up like a marionette, his shirt soaked with blood pouring from a gaping wound that stretched across his neck.

Franklin’s mouth began to move like a puppet manipulated by string as Ross heard his own voice over the speakers.

“Ruben Ross. How can I make you a star?”

A wave of fear washed over him, and Ross grew short of breath.

A second spotlight switched on, this one sending out a pale green light. When Ross saw Boon, his other security guard, hanging like a marionette with a large knife plunged into his forehead, he leaned over and vomited.

Franklin’s mouth closed and Boon’s worked open and shut as the speakers crackled to life.

“You can start by not being an idiot!”

The voice was Bradford King’s.

Ross listened as a recording of an earlier conversation between him and King played over the loudspeakers while the mouths of Franklin and Boon moved like puppets in a play.

“I’m not an idiot. That’s why I’m always prepared,” Ross heard himself say.

“You’re going to a play and then some bash as though no one were trying to kill you!” King’s voice yelled.

“No one is trying to kill me,” Ross’s voice barked in return.

Suddenly the yellow and green lights turned off, plunging the auditorium into darkness, and a video began to play on the wall to his left. Ross watched as the faces of Scott Baker, Douglas Burroughs, Suzanne Taylor, Oscar Blake, Rebecca Conrad, Jackson Kane, and Evelyn Hyde appeared one after the other. Beside each face was a chess piece. Baker, the white knight. Burroughs, the black. Taylor, the white bishop. Blake, the black. And then Ross’ face appeared on the screen with the white rook alongside.

He remembered the white rook he had knocked over just outside his theater box and panicked when he realized that the faces with chess pieces had been found murdered.

“Wait. That means that I. . .” he thought.

Suddenly another picture appeared on the screen. Bradford King. And beneath his name were the words ‘The Chessboard King’.

The video shut off and the room was once again bathed in darkness.

Across the room, a red spotlight turned on, and in its center stood someone wearing a clown mask with a long coat and a top hat.

Ross backed up until he hit the door behind him. The spotlight’s beam went out then came back on with the clown standing closer in the light. With every shut down, the beam of light brought the clown closer until he was within a few feet of the terrified Ross. He reached behind him, and with trembling hands tried to open the door.

“Captain Bonkers?” he asked, his voice quivering.

Without a sound, Captain Bonkers slowly nodded his head.

“Y-y-you don’t work for King, do you?” Ross asked.

Captain Bonkers slowly shook his head no.

“Mercy?” Ross squeaked.

Suddenly the red light went out, plunging the auditorium into darkness.

* * *

Ray worked his way over the legs of other theatergoers until he came to the seat number on his ticket. He settled down, trying to get comfortable, and hoped that he would get another chance to offer help to Ross, if the foolish man lasted that long.

Just then the director walked up on stage and stood proudly, patiently waiting for the voices of the audience to die down. When a hush fell over the crowd, the director smiled and extended a greeting.

“Ladies and gentleman, thank you for attending at this late hour. We have a wonderful performance in store for you this evening that I am certain you will thoroughly enjoy. There will be a fifteen-minute intermission during which time an assortment of light wines will be served in the lobby. We must ask that you refrain from any flash photography. Our performers are timid and easily scared by the flash,” he chuckled.

The director waited for the laughter to die down then continued,

“We hope you enjoy the show.”

After the director stepped off stage, the lights died down across the auditorium.

As the curtain slowly opened, the stage lights came up to show the body of Ruben Ross hanging upside down from his feet. Blood drained from his slit throat and at the end of a string around his neck hung a white rook.

Some members of the audience screamed and trampled each other as they ran for the exits. Others stared in shock as a voice came over the theater speakers,

“I’m Ruben Ross and I want to make you a star.”

The disjointed audio sounded as though it had been pieced together from different snippets. Suddenly the stage lights went out and a spotlight kicked on, its beam focused on Ross’ body, while circus calliope music began to play.

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