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AN ACTRESS CALLED SEXY ROSE

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AN ACTRESS CALLED SEXY ROSE Powered By Docstoc
					PAPA MANN HAD TO bend his tall torso over a little, so he could pass
through the doorway to the basement of Helga Gurlich's ancient boarding
house. He tapped each stair hard with his ivory cane as he and Freddy
Pasqual eased their way down the dimly lit stairwell. It's like walking on
eggshells, Papa thought. He knew the boarding house had been built forty
years earlier, in the '20's. They were taking a chance walking down the
old stairs, but Freddy had made it down them and back up by himself.
Freddy found the skeleton down here, didn't he? Papa thought, as they
neared the bottom of the stairwell.
"Now, where to?" Papa asked.
"Turn your light on—it's black as a cave in here!" Freddy cried,
tugging at what he could see of Papa's light-colored suit jacket.
"I wouldn't say black, exactly," Papa said, turning on his flashlight
and dancing its beam around the damp-smelling basement. "Which
way?"
"Shine the light on the wall to the left," Freddy said, anxiously.
Papa made the dim, elliptical spot slide along the wall. It illuminated
a wide, dusty closet that was just Papa's height.
"That's it—over there," Freddy said, nervously. "That's where the
skeleton is!"
Papa held the light in his left hand and opened the door of the antiquated
closet, which resembled something from an Egyptian tomb, with
his right. In the glow of the flashlight, the skeleton's eye sockets were
deep-black hollows of death. Spider webs and wisps of dry human tissue
AN ACTRESS CALLED ROSIE
6
snaked in and out of them. Scant, dark hair still remained on the head of
what had once been a lady, Papa judged from the remains of the elaborate
but dusty dress she was wearing. An angel cameo ring hung motionless
from the middle joint of the third finger bone of her right hand.
"I didn't notice the ring before," Freddy said.
Papa could feel Freddy shaking. "Take it easy—it's just a corpse,"
Papa said, reassuringly.
"It must have belonged to somebody," Freddy said, feeling a little
better. "I mean—it is somebody's cadaver."
"Yes," Papa said. "The question is, who was she and why was
she killed?"
Papa looked closely at her shoes. They're of a style worn in the
'30s, he thought. So was the dress. He carefully closed the closet door
and he and Freddy climbed back up the creaky stairs.
The next morning, Papa got up early, took a shower, put on a
white shirt, and a freshly washed tan suit; and brown and tan striped tie.
He knocked the dust off his shoes, went down the boarding house hall,
and knocked on Maddy Shellbird's door, a habit that had become a daily
routine.
"Come in," Maddy called in a weak voice.
Through the door, he heard her cough. He carefully opened it and
went in.
Maddy Shellbird, which was her stage name, was a fragile eightythree
years old. She had spent most of her recent months in bed with
emphysema.
Papa pulled up a chair near her bed, as he had often done since
she had become so ill.
AN ACTRESS CALLED ROSIE
7
"So, how is my favorite lady this morning?" he asked, a smile
tightening the wrinkles around his eyes and making his gray eyebrows
bristle.
"I'm going to die. Nobody needs to go to the trouble of trying to
fool me about that," she said, her eyes mere slits, sandwiched in tiny
blankets of puffy flesh. "I'm a very old, very sick, actress. I can't see
much anymore. I cough all the time. I have trouble hearing. My smeller's
gone bad. Fortunately, I don't feel much, either."
Papa took her hand into his.
"I think a great power is looking over you, Maddy. You'll probably
live to be a hundred," he said, giving her a wink.
Just then, the door opened and Helga, the landlady, came in with
a breakfast tray with more food than Papa and Maddy could eat in a day.
"So—!" the landlady said, her eyes twinkling as she set the tray
across Maddy's diminished stomach. "I've caught you two in a compromising
position—at last!"
Papa laughed and Maddy used enough strength to make a delighted
articulation.
"I'm sorry to say—I'm way beyond that point in life," Maddy said,
between coughs. She let go of his hand.
"Well—all I know—is what I see," the rotund landlady said, smiling.
"And what I see is a couple of lovebirds about to have the greatest
breakfast I've ever made. It does my heart good."
She poured coffee into two nicked cups and left the room with the
same staunchness with which she had entered.
"It's not a good subject to bring up when one is eating—I admit—
but I saw the strangest thing last night. I can't keep from thinking about
it," Papa said.
AN ACTRESS CALLED ROSIE
8
"And what might that have been?" Maddy asked, her shaky hand
reaching for a napkin.
"Down in the basement—I saw what was left of an old dame," he
said, taking a sip of coffee. "She was badly decomposed. I'd say she's
been dead thirty years or so."
Maddy's eyes dimmed. The wrinkles around her mouth tightened.
"My God," she said softly. "You've found Rosie Greenchild."
"Who?"
"Rosie Greenchild. That was her stage name, of course," Maddy
explained.
"Of course," Papa repeated, taking a nibble of crisp bacon. "Know
why she's in the basement?"
"That's where I put her—thirty years ago. She was so heavy—I
almost fell getting her down the stairs," Maddy said, weakly wiping bacon
grease off her lips with the napkin.
"You?" Papa thought. He decided not to express the thought
aloud. He could hear the rasping sound of her breathing. She's a very
sick woman, indeed, he thought. He would just remain quiet and hope
she would keep talking.
"She had so many wonderful clothes. I loved her clothes—so
much," Maddy said. "Her gowns were so rich and lovely and fresh. Mine
were old and rubbed raw with use."
She rested her withered arms along the sides of the worn oak
breakfast tray.
Papa noticed she had stopped eating and that her eyes had become
a little glassy. She was not exactly herself, he decided.
"I know why you've come—because you're a detective," she said
simply, looking at him.
AN ACTRESS CALLED ROSIE
9
He saw that her blue eyes were moist, as though she had just suffered
a heavy sorrow of which he was not aware, and he knew she no
longer recognized him as the friend he was to her. "I have always come,"
he said softly. "You know that."
He could tell that she was lost in a reverie, and that mentally, she
was not in the same room with him.
"Her green taffeta was my favorite. She let me wear it sometimes.
I played the part of Juliet in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet,"
Maddy said, looking into space.
"You say Rosie had a green taffeta dress?" Papa asked, trying to
break into her musing. "Was it the dress she has on now?"
She went on talking as if he were not there.
"That night—I played, Annette—a lover of the Roman Emperor
Claudius. Rosie let me wear her mauve chiffon in the play. The chiffon
was so beautiful. It spread out around me like I was a queen. 'My tender
love—Claudius—Emperor of Rome—seek out my heart. Stroke me with
your sword of adoration. Fill my nights with you—and kiss away these
sorrows from my soul—'. That was my first line. Claudius was so handsome.
He was clad in golden armor from head to foot. He made a striking
sight—then, Rosie said a line. She was Claudius' other lover in the
play, that night. She said to my lovely Claudius, 'Fill your mind and
dreams with only me—your heart with my heart—your soul with my
soul—forever and forevermore…' Her dress of pale-yellow silk shown in
the limelight of the stage and it was so beautiful. After that—I hated her—
you know, Papa Mann—I hated her so much."
He sensed she had mentally returned to where he was.
"Why does she have on the green taffeta dress?" Papa asked.
AN ACTRESS CALLED ROSIE
"Why—I put it on her, of course. When I got her down the stairs—
she only had on a rag of a dress. I put the green taffeta on her. It was
only fair—after all—I did get to wear all the rest of her dresses—after I put
her in the closet," she said, reaching for some jellied toast. She adjusted
the brownish-red comb in her loose gray hair with her free hand.
He sipped his coffee, which was getting cool. "Tell me, Maddy,
how did Rosie die?"
Maddy closed her eyes as though she was in a trance. A tear slid
down her wrinkled cheek.
"I did her in," she said simply. "I hated her so. She had all the
pretty dresses. She got all the great guys with them, especially Claudius.
She only let me wear a dress of hers once in a while."
Papa set his cup down.
"How did you do her in, Maddy?" he asked softly.
"We were together in my dining room one evening. I had figured it
all out. She liked brandy in her tea. I spiked some brandy with a little arsenic
and put it in her tea—that's all. We had some marvelous crumpets,
too," she said, opening her eyes.
"I put her in her car and drove over here to the boarding house.
She was so heavy to carry down all those stairs—I thought I would drop
her. No one ever went down there, you see—I was sure no one would
ever find her…."
"Do you remember her ring—the one with the angel cameo on it?"
Papa asked, gently.
"Oh—yes—Claudius gave that to her. I hated it so," Maddy said,
rubbing the third finger of her right hand with her thumb. "I made sure
she wore it all these years—just for spite."
AN ACTRESS CALLED ROSIE
Maddy's sudden cough was a rasping sound that came from deep
within her chest.
"When did you do Rosie in?"
"I did her in during the spring of '32. We had just finished the musical,
Butterflies Can Be Beautiful—at Wentworth Hall. She was so proud
of herself. She should have been—she made a lot of money off of that
play. She sang, you know."
"I didn't know," Papa said, looking again at Maddy's emaciated
arms.
"Oh yes—she sang. And—I can tell you—she spent the money
she got from singing—on beautiful dresses," Maddy said in a whisper.
"Just once—I wanted to go on stage—wearing the most beautiful dress in
the theater."
Papa could see she had mentally drifted away again.
"After that—I wore all of Rosie's dresses—to all the theaters—and
everybody—including Claudius, thought Rosie had given up the theater
life and had gone west to live with her sister in a place called Pine Wash.
That's what they thought all right—forever—and forevermore…. Claudius
was all mine, then, you see. Forever—and forevermore…" Maddy's voice
rasped. Her eyes were closed. "But I knew where she was all the time,
you see. The more I thought about her, the more it made me think about
her. It was an obsession. I wanted it to stop. I begged for it to stop—but
it wouldn't. Not in all those thirty years—it wouldn't stop."
She leaned her head back against her pillow and laid quietly, her
eyes still closed.
Papa looked at her with compassion.
Tears had left streaks down through the heavy makeup on her
shallow cheeks.
AN ACTRESS CALLED ROSIE
He took her hand into his. It was limp. He could not hear her
breathe.
"Maddy?" he said softly. There was no answer.
He felt for her pulse. There was none.
He gently laid her hand down by her side. He lifted the breakfast
tray off her and set it on the table.
He got up, looked at her once more, opened the door, left her
room, and stood for a moment in the quiet hallway—and then he noiselessly
closed her door behind himself and walked on down the hall.

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