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Amateur Theatricals – Chapter Five

Welcome to Amateur Theatricals, book twelve in the Operation Quickline series. The stage is set for a major operation as Lisa, Sid, and Nick go undercover at a university to find who’s killing KGB moles in training. You can read the first episode here, and catch up on the series here.

Monday morning, I did not want to get up. Fortunately, there hadn’t been any snow that night, which meant no shoveling before heading out. That didn’t stop Sid from nudging me out of bed around six. Nick had to be at school by eight. Sid wanted to hit the treadmills at the fitness center in plenty of time to change for his first class at nine. Which meant all three of us were out the door by six-thirty.

At seven a.m., we all were on adjacent treadmills. The machines had been set up so that you could watch one of the TVs mounted in a row above the huge glass window overlooking an icy walkway to the rest of the campus. After half an hour, Nick left to get dressed for school. He also had his physical education pod later that day. He popped up just before we were done. Sid and I stopped running long enough for Nick to kiss us goodbye, and he headed off. We finished our hour-long run. Sid kissed me, then headed for the showers. I went to the weight room and did my workout to protect my back.

Sid met me at the door to the locker rooms, dressed in a sport coat, slacks, and snowy-white dress shirt.

“Hey, I’m off,” he said, his demeanor so cool I knew he was totally freaking out.

I grabbed his face and gave him a solid kiss. “You are going to knock them dead. I’ve seen you teach before. You’re good at this.”

“I’m glad you think so, lover.” He smiled and handed me a key. “Not that you need it, but it will look better if you have a key to my office. Go ahead and leave your stuff there.”

“Thanks. I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

I went into the locker room and got showered and dressed in jeans, Oxford shirt, and sweater, then put my workout clothes in my gym bag. The running shoes I wore. You would think I’d be wearing snow boots, but these were special running shoes, with a false bottom that I could pop open and pull out a stiletto, a screwdriver, batteries for a transmitter, another transmitter, and things like that. Those shoes had saved my backside more than once.

Sid was just leaving his office when I arrived there right before nine. It was on the second floor, not far from the bridge to the performing arts building. I gave him another kiss and quick pep talk, then he left. The office was small, just room enough for the desk and chair, a chair in front of the desk, a couple file cabinets and a small bookshelf on the wall. On the other hand, it wasn’t shared, so that was something. I set the gym bag on the side of the desk furthest from the door, then hoisted my daypack on my shoulder and got myself out of there.

My first class that day was at ten a.m. It was Voice and Diction with Dr. Dorfmann, who reminded us that not only were we required to audition for both Top Girls and Richard III that Wednesday and Thursday, he did not want to hear any monologues from Richard III. I swallowed. I’d found one from Hamlet that I thought would work, but was struggling a bit with remembering all of it.

My memory is pretty darned good. It must be. But the past few years, it has been about memorizing codes and strings of numbers, addresses, and a variety of other things. I hadn’t memorized lines from a play since high school.

We introduced ourselves to the class, with me explaining that I already had a bachelor’s degree in another field and was taking undergrad prerequisites to eventually get my masters. I did not mention Nick or Sid and Dorfmann, bless him, didn’t say anything, either.

There was an hour break between Voice and Diction and Costuming at noon. I had three sandwiches with me, plus some cut-up celery and carrots. What I wanted was potato chips and there were several vending machines next to the bridge to the Humanities building. I sighed but decided to save my change for when I’d really need the snack. I went to the room I’d seen across from the costume shop.

“Who are you?” demanded an almost stout woman with full blond hair from a chair at the table.

“Linda. I’m new.” I swallowed. “You are?”

“Tracy Schultz.” She was probably in her early twenties, but had a hard edge to her.

“Welcome to the Green Room,” said a young man. He had a couple rolls around his middle, and a round face, brown hair that was on the edge of red, and a fully pleasant demeanor. “I’m Mark.”

“Nice to meet you,” I said.

I looked at the green walls and suddenly realized where I was. It was an official green room, i.e., a backstage lounge where actors can wait and rest before the play starts and between scenes. The rooms are painted green because that color is supposed to be soothing. I thought the color in this green room was somewhat more bilious than soothing, but I wasn’t going to say anything. I sat down in one of the plastic chairs near the table.

“I’m guessing it’s okay to eat lunch here,” I said.

“If you dare,” said Tracy. “This place, like, needs serious fumigating.”

I pulled a sandwich from my daypack. “I’ve seen worse. I think.”

That got a small laugh.

Costuming was at noon. Bev Mott, bless her, did not reveal my connection to the rest of the university faculty, although she winked at me as she walked into the classroom. The bad news was that I had to sign up to work at least one of the shows that would happen that quarter, plus several more hours in the costume shop. I signed up to work the Dance Recital, in the hopes of getting my hours out of the way sooner rather than later. After all, that first week or so, I was supposed to be concentrating on establishing my cover rather than investigating. After that, who knew how much time I’d have for school?

There would also be reading and exams, but the real surprise was the kid I’d seen in the Health Center the week before. He was in the class and answered to the name Terrence Peterson, and it seemed like Bev already knew him.

At two, I had Theatre history with Dr. Necht. I honestly do not believe he recognized me from the Faculty Dinner. [He had his eyes glued to your breasts that night, so I’m not surprised. – SEH] He was an amiable fellow with brown, thinning hair, a slender figure, and wire-rimmed glasses. That class was mostly about reading and a couple exams, although there was a ten-page term paper due at the end of the quarter.

“Well, that should do it for today,” Dr. Necht said as he wrapped up his lecture. “Questions? Hopes, dreams, aspirations?”

I suspected there were plenty of the latter three, but no one volunteered.

From there, I hurried back to Humanities and Sid’s office. Sid sat at his desk, glaring at some journal article on top.

“Well?” I asked. Okay, demanded when I got there.

He shrugged. “It went fine. No one seems fated to become a history major, which is kind of nice. The students seem like decent kids, mostly interested in filling out their general education requirements.”

“That’s what I figured.” I smiled at him.

“So, you were right. Again.” He grinned at me. “Do we let Nick walk home or hang around here long enough to drive him home?”

I couldn’t help grinning. “Walking is good for his character and not being in the house lets us carry on without worrying about the noise.”

Sid laughed. “That poor kid, having to walk home so often.”

Both our Tuesday, Thursday classes started later than our Monday, Wednesday, Friday classes. Sid started with Research Techniques and Resources at ten in the morning, and I had acting, starting at eleven. The research class was the one Sid was really sweating, which I didn’t understand. Admittedly, back home, I’m the one who does most of the paper research for our freelance writing business. Thanks to my master’s degree, I’m good at it. But Sid was mostly through his own master’s program in music education by that point, so it wasn’t as though he did not know how to do research. In fact, he’d gotten darned good at it. [However, I was painfully aware that I did not have the PhD I claimed and was worried that it would show. – SEH]

A light snow had fallen the night before. We sent Nick off to school by seven-thirty, then Sid and I did the shoveling work out. Sid was a little worried about my back, but I was fine. We were done well before eight-thirty. Sid showered, ate, and was out the door by nine-fifteen. I cleaned up the kitchen, took my time in the shower, then walked to class, given that I hadn’t had a chance to run, and it didn’t look like I was going to get one.

Professor Maggie Leitner wanted us to just call her Maggie. She not only had her MFA, she’d spent a lot of years acting in New York, both on and off Broadway. She had a deep, slightly scratchy voice and the miasma of cigarette smoke wafted off her, even though she didn’t smoke in the building. Actually, no one was allowed to, except in the faculty offices.

Acting was straightforward. We each introduced ourselves, did a couple exercises, talked about motivation and intention and stuff like that. Maggie also told us that we would have to audition for both Top Girls and Richard III, then gave us a bunch of reading to do.

As soon as acting let out, I hurried over the bridge to Sid’s office in the humanities building. He was there with one of his Research students, LeShawn Pile.

We knew LeShawn as our good friend Jesse White. He’s a little taller than average and his skin is the color of cocoa out of the box, although he’d grown a goatee and mustache for this job. Sid made the “introductions” in the doorway, then pulled us both inside and shut the door. We all checked our bug finders almost automatically.

“How safe is it to talk in here?” LeShawn/Jesse asked.

“It’s pretty soundproof,” Sid said. “Ryan and I tested it out last week. I could barely hear him yelling, and I was in the office next door.”

“Really?” I couldn’t help grinning.

LeShawn groaned. “Come on, you two.”

He got really embarrassed when Sid and I started teased each other.

“So, what do you have?” Sid asked him.

“Not much yet. I got the pickup from Red Light this morning, but it’s just the photos.”

“Yeah.” Sid sighed. “We need copies made and touched up to match how we look now. You can mail the prints back home when you’re done. Can you do all that?”

“Oh, yeah. I brought my dark room and other stuff.” Jesse shrugged. “I’ve got to produce some winter shots for my big show, anyway.”

Jesse/LeShawn’s excuse for being away was that he and his wife were going to do a photo tour of the U.S. before his wife got too far along in her pregnancy. Well, that’s what they’d told their families. Kathy Deiner, who would be known to us as Karen Crombie, had discovered that she was pregnant early that December. Sid and I had offered to let the two of them sit this one out, but Kathy and Jesse both said no. Too much work had already been done and Kathy had pointed out that she’d have a tougher time doing something like this once the baby got here. Besides, she could work in financial aid and snoop discretely, not to mention that being pregnant would make her look a lot less suspicious.

“How’s Karen doing?” I asked. We’d been using our cover names instead of our own, for obvious reasons.

“Oh, she’s fine.” Jesse rolled his eyes. “I’m the nervous wreck, and it isn’t just this job. It’s the whole idea of being a father.”

“Tell me about it,” said Sid with a laugh. He’d resisted fairly hard when Nick’s mother brought him to our doorstep. “But once I got used to the idea, it turned out to be pretty nice.”

“Yeah, well, at least, I asked for it.” Jesse grinned. “One of the main reasons the two of us got married was to have babies. You got anything else for me?”

“No. Thanks, though.”

“I’d better get going then.” He checked his watch. “I’ve got editing class in half an hour and homework tonight.”

He glared merrily at Sid.

“It’s about the practice,” Sid replied.

Jesse left.

“So, what’s up with the photos?” I asked. “You just said that you needed them after all the other day.”

Sid rolled his eyes. “My male colleagues. Carl Howard visited me on Thursday and was surprised I didn’t have any photos out. He said that family photos on the desk were the mark of a happily married man. I told him I wasn’t sure where mine were, thanks to the move. I wasn’t going to put any out. Then we had Friday night.”

“What happened?”

“Your cashmere dress, which, by the way, I still really love.” Sid winced. “I think I’m finally getting what you put up with from men. A lot of the guys that night didn’t see us come in together, so they didn’t realize that you were my wife. They referred to you in the coarsest possible terms and laughed about what all they could get you to do. The guys in the singles scene weren’t that crude. Worse yet, when these guys weren’t making jokes about you, they were running their wives down.” Sid shuddered. “Anyway, I suddenly thought that maybe Carl had a point about the desk photos. And a couple for the house, just in case. Jesse’s going to retouch them so that they match our cover and how we look.”

“Oh. I’m sorry about that.”

“Don’t be.” Sid got up from his desk and pulled me close to him. “My darling, you are and remain a wonderfully sexy, sensual woman, and I love that about you. But you are so much more than that. I just can’t believe there are so many assholes out there who only see a plaything and not the incredibly special whole woman I know and love.”

I smiled. “Do we want to talk about primary socialization and society’s gender messages?”

“Later, preferably with our son, so that he keeps his head on straight.” Sid suddenly grinned. “We both have a class at two, don’t we?”

“Yes. And I want to eat lunch before then.” I tried to look severe. “Besides, I have no interest in being your plaything.”

“I have no interest in having you as a plaything.” Sid nuzzled my ear, then rubbed his thumb along the back of my neck.

That one always gets me. I hissed with the pleasure.

“But I would not mind a happy, passionate celebration of our love for each other,” Sid whispered.

I thanked God the office door did not have a window.

In real life, such as it is, Sid, Nick, and I live in Beverly Hills. The reason we do is that is where Sid found the first place that seemed livable when he was transferred to the L.A. area as part of Operation Quickline. This happened in 1976.

What makes this relevant is that Sid and I do know people who work in the “Industry,” aka the motion picture and TV industry. It would be hard not to, given where we live. After defense industries, it is the biggest employer in the Los Angeles area. Not to mention that a lot of the bigger players live in our immediate area and somewhat to the east in West Hollywood.

So, we know what “Industry” attitude looks like. It’s this weird sense of being more important than anybody else, but not quite. In fact, it’s a little hard to describe, but easy to spot. Big shots who run multi-million-dollar studios have it, right along with wannabes who couldn’t get arrested in town. Not everyone in the industry has the attitude. Just the assholes. But there are a lot of assholes in that business.

I arrived at the classroom for Beginning Directing about fifteen minutes early, having cleaned up and eaten. My notebook sat on the chair desk combo with a pen next to it, ready to take notes. I also sat in the front row. With my last name being Wycherly, I was alphabetized into the back of the room for almost all my education. I love the front row.

Because this was an undergraduate class, like all my others, the students were young, in their late teens, early twenties. There were a couple of serious young men. The kid named Mark that I’d met the day before was in the class. Along with five guys and eleven girls, including the perpetually grumpy Tracy Schultz, Mark wasn’t terribly interested in directing, per se, but needed the credits. Two young and cute college girls sat up front near me.

As the minute hand on the classroom clock ticked past the one, the door opened, and another serious young man hurried in and took a seat in the desk on the other side from the young and cute college girls. We waited some more, the room still except for some giggling. Fifteen minutes after the class was due to start, I began to think about taking off and had gotten as far as putting my pen back into its pocket on my daypack when the door opened, and Earnest Kaspar finally made his entrance.

He was a short man with black hair, graying slightly at the temples, and wore a rust suede jacket over a blue chambray shirt and off-white chinos with white running shoes. He had no papers or notes with him, which I thought was a little odd, but decided not to question it. I wasn’t really there to learn how to direct a play. I was there to protect him from whatever monster was killing the young KGB agents in his charge.

He stood at the head of the class for at least another minute or two. When he glanced my way, he dismissed me. He smiled at the three serious young men, smiled even more warmly at the young and cute college girls, then looked solemn as he surveyed the rest of the class.

“There is no show without the director,” he pronounced in a surprisingly deep voice, his accent not betraying the least hint that he’d been born in the USSR. “There is no film, no play, not even one of those ridiculous sitcoms on television without a director. The director’s job is to give life and shape to what the audience sees.”

He went on in that vein for some time. It was odd because he hadn’t announced which class this was, as if it could be no other class. Nor did he take roll. If I didn’t give up taking notes, it was because I was sitting right in front of him. Nonetheless, he figured out pretty quickly that I was not enthralled by his brilliance.

Finally, he paused. “Any questions?”

I raised my hand.

“Yes?” He all but rolled his eyes at my impertinence.

“Is there a syllabus for the course?” I asked.

“Why would you ask that?”

“Because I want to know what the course requirements are so that I can successfully fulfill them.”

His glare strongly suggested that I didn’t have a chance in hell of doing that. He shrugged.

“If you really need a copy, they are available in the department office.” He sighed. “However, the basic requirements are that you direct three scenes, with or without your classmates, and that you read the textbook and apply it. The scenes will be due throughout the quarter with the final scene during finals week.” He glared at the class. “Any other questions?”

I was not in the least bit shocked when there weren’t any. The only good part about the class, it turned out, was the textbook. It was On Directing, by Harold Clurman, and I really enjoyed reading it. It didn’t teach me that much about directing, but I loved the way Clurman bitched about Marlon Brando’s inability to speak clearly. I was not a Brando fan. [The only thing worse than your issues with Brando are your issues with Dustin Hoffman, which got significantly worse after this case. – SEH]

Kaspar dismissed us shortly before three p.m. Our assignment for the next class would be to find a scene to direct. The serious students and the young and cute college girls scurried out to follow Kaspar as he left. The others grumbled and tried to figure out who they could get to do what.

Mark, however, plopped into the desk/chair combo next to me.

“What a load of horse manure,” he grumbled. Okay. He didn’t say manure.

“No kidding.” I looked at him. “I’ll do your scene if you’ll do mine.”

Mark shrugged. “Sure. What scene do you want to do?”

“Besides my audition for tomorrow? I have no idea.”

“What are you doing for your audition?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know about Top Girls.”

“You’ll just have to do readings for that. Richard’s going to be the bitch since Dorfmann wants monologues.”

“I know. I’m working on one from Hamlet.”

“Hamlet?” Mark grinned and cursed. “Ophelia going crazy?”

“What do you want to bet there will be plenty of those?”

Mark laughed. “So, which one?”

“Gertrude talking about Ophelia’s death. ‘There is a willow that grows aslant a brook.’ What are you doing?”

“Don John’s monologue from Much Ado.”

“Not Iago?” I grinned.

Mark rolled his eyes. “Everyone will be doing Iago. He’s the closest to Richard. Yet, Don John is the one who really gets into the whole being a villain thing.”

“Hey, you want to do those as our first scenes?”

Mark looked thoughtful. “Kaspar might go for it. Why don’t we work on it now?”

I checked my watch. “Sure. I’ve got a few minutes.”

His Don John was scary. He also had some great notes to give me on my monologue, as well. I was late meeting Sid back at the Humanities meeting, but Sid understood.

We got home well before Nick did, but Sid had papers to grade from the Research class and I had a ton of reading to do. That all got dropped when Nick burst through the front door.

“Mom! Dad!” he hollered. “We had the try-outs for Richard today and I got it!”

“What?” I asked, looking up from the living room couch.

Sid hurried out from the den.

“I’m the Prince of Wales in the play. One of the kids that gets killed. I got the part!”

I bounced up. “Oh, my god, son, that’s wonderful!”

Sid laughed. “Somehow, I’m not surprised. Congratulations.”

“I’m so proud of you!” I swept him into a warm hug.

We spent the rest of the evening trying to keep Nick off the ceiling. The problem was, we were so happy for him, both Sid and I were on the ceiling, too.

Thank you for reading. For more information about the Operation Quickline series, click here.

Please check out the Fiction page for the latest on all my novels. Or look me up at your favorite independent bookstore. Mine is Vroman’s, in Pasadena, California.

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