When the show ended, when the stagehands came out to clear away the stars and streamers and glittering sequins, Andrew made his way down the aisle to the stage. He knocked at the door to the Green Room, which opened to a woman in a turban and a short green and silver kimono.
"I'm Andrew Dodd from the Oakland Tribune," he said. "Callan and Thorne Allalie told me to meet them after the performance."
"Ah," she said. "Callan's in the trap room. Do you know where that is?"
He shook his head. The woman gave him complicated directions and he walked down the stairs, then followed a maze of sloping corridors. The brown and off-white walls, the rough ceiling and bare bulbs, were almost a relief after the opulence of the theatre. He came to the trap room and knocked.
"Come," a deep voice said. Andrew opened the door and stepped inside. "I'm Callan Allalie. You're the reporter, aren't you?"
"Is this part of the mind-reading act?" Andrew asked.
Callan laughed. He was, Andrew saw with surprise, fairly short; on stage, wearing a top hat and tails, he had seemed larger, more imposing. He was almost completely bald; that had been hidden by the hat.
"You were the only man in the audience not wearing a tie and tails," Callan said, indicating Andrew's white blazer and straw skimmer. "I saw you from the stage and I thought, There's the reporter. Sit down, sit down."
Andrew looked around. In one corner stood a piano covered with a cloth. Near it were several rolled rugs, then the ramp leading to the orchestra pit. Clothing racks hung with costumes took up another corner. Two men carrying a golden statue between them came through the door. So they had been statues, then. Andrew hadn't been sure.
He sat on one of the rolled rugs. Callan laughed again and sat next to him, stretching his legs. "Good, good," Callan said. "I like informality."
Andrew could smell the man's strong sweat. He fished a notebook and pencil from his blazer pocket. "So," he said. "Magic. Lead into gold, water into wine, that sort of thing."
"Gold into wine," Callan said.
Andrew looked at him, discomfited. He had had a good strong drink before the performance, thanking God, as he always did, that Prohibition had ended two years before. He hadn't thought anyone could tell, though.
"That dame who disappeared," Andrew said. "She went through the trap door, right?"
Callan put a thick finger to his lips.
"You don't give away your secrets, is that it?"
Callan's finger was still at his lips. No, Andrew saw -- it was pointing upwards, to the ceiling. "The room under the stage is always called the trap room," Callan said. "But in this particular theatre there's no trap door."
Andrew looked up at the unfinished ceiling. Pipes ran along it and down the walls; there was no room for anything else. "I love this theatre," Callan said. "It's the most beautiful place in the world."
"So how did you do it?" Andrew asked.
"Right." Andrew opened his notebook, glanced at the questions he had written there. "Is everyone in the act part of your family?"
A woman came through the door. Callan stood and they embraced. "What do you think?" she asked. "They loved us, didn't they?"
"Of course they did," Callan said. He turned her toward Andrew as if introducing her to an audience.
Andrew stood and doffed his skimmer. "Hello, ma'am," he said. "I'm Andrew Dodd from the Tribune."
She held her hand to him. "A pleasure," she said. "I'm Callan's sister."
Andrew took the hand, noticing the Allalie family resemblance. Both brother and sister were short, muscular, with gaps between their front teeth. But where Callan looked squat, like a frog or a gargoyle, the same features had somehow combined to make his sister almost beautiful. Her kimono was purple, with gold stars.
"And you're all one family?" Andrew asked.
"Oh, yes," the woman -- she had to be Thorne -- said. She leaned against the piano and lit a cigarette with a green marble lighter, fanning the smoke in front of her face.
"When did you get started? And how?"
"And why?" Thorne laughed.
More people were entering the trap room now, some still in costume, some in ordinary work clothes. A woman painted gold leaned over and kissed Callan, leaving a smear of gold on his cheek.
"Were you one of the statues?" Andrew asked her.
"Statues?" the woman said. She stood on tiptoe and kissed him as well, a touch as soft as soot on his face.
"I get it," Andrew said. "None of you guys are going to give me a straight answer, is that it?"
"Of course we will," Thorne said. "Callan, what have you been saying to this poor man? Tell him anything he wants to know."
"How many are you?" Andrew asked.
"It varies," Callan said. There was a cigarette in his hand too now, though Andrew hadn't seem him take it out. "Some stay home and study."
"Study? Study what?"
"The art --" Puff. "-- illusion."
A young man with curly reddish-gold hair came into the room. He wore a capacious raincoat, though there had been no hint of rain that evening.
"Corrig!" several people called. He turned and grinned, showing the same gapped teeth as the rest. From his raincoat pockets he drew a bottle of champagne and several cut-glass goblets, and set them on the piano.
A woman brushed against Andrew. "Of course you'll have some," she said in a low voice. "You're our guest tonight."
Callan handed him a glass. The red-haired man popped the cork; it shot through the air and seemed to leave a purple trail behind it. He filled Andrew's glass.
Andrew took a sip, and then, surprised, sipped again. It was very good -- he hadn't tasted anything as delicious in a long time.
"All right," he said. His notebook and pencil had somehow gotten back into his pocket. He set the champagne glass down and took them out again. "When did you people start touring together?"
"Centuries ago, really," Thorne said. "Well, not us, of course, but our family."
"Ah," Andrew said. This was something he could use. He took another sip of champagne, then finished the glass and held it out for more. Corrig filled it to the brim. "So your family has a tradition of performing."
The woman he had met in the Green Room came in the door. She still wore the green and silver kimono but the turban was gone and she had large black glasses, men's glasses, over her eyes. "Thorne!" Callan said. "Come help us. This young man is asking us all sorts of questions."
"Thorne?" Andrew said. "I thought you --" He turned to the woman with the cigarette. "I thought you were Thorne. Callan's sister, you said."
"I'm Callan's other sister," the woman said. "Fentrice."
A man carrying a trumpet followed Thorne into the room, then a woman with bells on her wrists and ankles. The small space was filling with people: a woman with a snake around her neck, a man leading a tiger. Andrew couldn't remember seeing that many on stage. Dozens of gold statues were propped up against each other in the corner; Andrew looked for the woman who had kissed him but couldn't find her anywhere. Someone was playing the piano, thumping the wooden top to keep the beat.
He turned, turned again. A woman smelling of jasmine and tobacco ran her scarf across his face, and for a moment the room turned gauzy green, as if seen underwater. He pushed it aside and tried to focus but could see only fragments: coins, jewels, stars. Two women danced in front of him.
"Got a dog, got a cat," a voice sang,
"Got a car, got a flat,
"Got everything but you, my baaaby...."
Where was Callan? He pushed his way through the crowd, past people wearing headdresses of feathers, circlets of flowers. A man in clothing a century old gripped the hilt of a sword.
Ahead of him stood the red-haired man, Corrig, pouring from another bottle of champagne. Callan was talking earnestly to him. "Callan!" Andrew said.
"Ah, there you are," Callan said. "Where did you go off to? Have some champagne."
Andrew took another glass, drank. When he looked up most of the crowd had gone; a single white feather floated through the air.
He cleared his throat. "How -- How did you do that?" he asked.
"Trickery," Callan said.
"Illusion," Thorne said.
He turned. Where had Thorne come from? His notebook had gotten lost again. He patted his pocket, then looked up and saw Corrig holding it out to him. He took it, opened to the first page. It was filled with writing he couldn't read, eyes, triangles, suns. He turned to the middle.
"We've been touring all over," Callan said. "Boston, Philadelphia, Denver. Last month we were in England."
"England," Andrew wrote. He frowned. There had been something he had been about to ask but he couldn't remember what it was now.
He drank more champagne. The room seemed to contract down to the glass in his hand; everything else was spinning around that one still point. He looked up. The red-haired man was grinning at him.
The piano music started up again, joined by a trumpet and a clarinet this time.
"Devil take the car and flat,
"Hang the dog and shoot the cat,
"Don't want anything, babe, but you...."
It was an effort to move his head, to raise pencil to paper. He closed his eyes.
He woke up on the trolley home with no memory of having left the theatre. He got off at the stop nearest his apartment, climbed the stairs and fell into bed without taking off his clothes and shoes.
The sun coming through his window woke him the next morning. He cursed; his editor would be expecting his article. He groaned, sat up and rubbed his forehead. If he was lucky he would have written some of it last night.
He fixed a cup of coffee and drank it, then opened his notebook. "Lies?" it said. "Truth?" The rest was blank.
Sixty years later Molly Travers left an office building in downtown Oakland to go to lunch. As she stepped out into the crowded street someone called out, "Ms. Travers?"
Peter? she thought, though Peter would certainly never use her last name. Despite that, she looked around eagerly.
The man who had spoken pushed his way through the crowd. He was medium height, with curly brown hair and a pointed chin. His eyes were set too close together.
She stopped. "Yes?"
"I'd like to ask you a few questions," he said. "Can I buy you lunch?"
"Questions about what?" she asked.
"My aunt?" she said. "What do you know about my aunt?"
"Your great-aunt Fentrice Allalie." Several people left the building and pushed their way between them. "Can we go somewhere private?"
"Who are you?" she asked.
"My name is John Stow. I'm a private investigator."
"Oh," she said. "Well, I've certainly got nothing to hide. Would the deli be okay with you? It's right down the street."
They stopped at a light. It was a sunny day, after months of rain; the long California drought was finally ending. John Stow squinted at the heavy downtown traffic. The light changed; a chirping sound came from the traffic lights to indicate to the blind that it was safe to cross. They started across the street.
"I should probably ask for some identification," Molly said.
Stow took out his wallet and opened it to a Xerox of his license. "Why are you so interested in my aunt?" Molly asked.
"It's a matter of an inheritance."
"An inheritance? Don't look at me -- my aunt had barely enough to live on."
"She raised you, right?"
"You've done your homework."
"Could be she's owed money."
Molly laughed. "I can't imagine."
"Your aunt's brother --"
"Her brother?" Molly said again. She slowed. "Her brother's long dead."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. He was my grandfather -- he died before I was born."
"Well, it seems that someone related to this brother didn't get some money that was owed him."
"Listen, are you sure you have the right person? I don't think my grandfather had any relatives besides my aunt and my parents."
"Pretty sure. There aren't too many people named Fentrice."
"Yeah, but -- Who are you working for, anyway?"
"I can't tell you that."
"Then I don't have to answer your questions."
"No, sure. Listen, did your aunt ever say anything about her time on the road?"
Molly hesitated. She had, of course, asked questions about the family history, but Fentrice never talked much about the past. She wasn't going to tell John Stow that, though. "All she ever said was that she had had a pretty wild youth, but that she had given it all up and settled down. She was a touring magician or something."
"The Allalie Family."
"You seem to know more about it than I do. Why don't you ask her?"
"I might do that. I'd like to start with you first, though. She ever say anything about her brother? Your grandfather?"
"Hardly anything. His name was -- let me think. Callan, something like that. Callan Allalie."
"Callan, that's right. Anything else?"
"Not that I can remember."
They went into the deli and ordered at the counter. When the sandwiches came they took them to a table by the window. Stow bit into his reuben and then set it down and reached into his jacket pocket. The jacket sleeves were worn at the elbows; it looked like something he had gotten at a thrift shop. Molly thought of Peter, his khaki jackets and open-neck shirts, of the way he seemed ready at all times to hop a plane and travel to some exotic destination.
"Here, look at this," Stow said, setting a piece of paper on the table.
It was a Xerox of an article from the Oakland Tribune, dated April 9, 1935. "Magicians Dazzle at the Paramount," the headline said, and underneath, "By Andrew Dodd."
Molly began to read. "Audiences sat spellbound as a family of magicians took to the stage at the Paramount Theatre last night. The Allalie family, consisting of Callan, Thorne, and Fentrice, and large numbers of their kith and kin, managed to engage, enchant, and amuse -- and did it all as effortlessly as pulling a rabbit out of a hat."
She looked up. "Thorne? Who's Thorne?"
"I was hoping you'd know."
She shook her head. "Never heard of him."
"Keep reading," Stow said.
"Callan, the patriarch of this remarkable clan, caused his sister Thorne to vanish in full view of the audience. He made a number of predictions, telling a gentleman about a promotion awaiting him, a lady where she had misplaced her diamond and ruby watch, which, according to her, he described perfectly. There was a considerable stir in the audience at these prophesies. But even they paled in comparison with the last act, in which Callan conjured several gold statues and finally his sister Thorne, who reappeared to loud applause.
"The sister thus returned might have been Fentrice; I confess that to this reporter the various family members looked remarkably alike. Even when I went backstage to interview them I was subject to some confusion. I did discover, however, that the Allalie clan has a tradition of touring, which, according to Thorne (or Fentrice), goes back several centuries. Some of this enormous family stay home and study what they call the art of illusion while the others tour.
"Callan Allalie told me that the Paramount Theatre is the most beautiful place in the world. Because of this recommendation I turned to take a final look at its facade as I left. It consists of a tile mosaic several stories high featuring a man and a woman, each manipulating a number of marionettes which depend from their hands on strings -- dancers, actors, athletes, animals. I felt a kinship with these figures; I had been manipulated as thoroughly by Callan, Thorne, and Fentrice Allalie. The difference was that I had enjoyed myself throughout."
There was a picture along with the article. It had not reproduced well; there were whole sections of shiny black where the Xerox machine had apparently given up in confusion. But Molly could make out a man standing at the front of the stage, two women somewhat behind him, a number of statues along the side and what looked like a tiger at the back. Funny the reporter hadn't mentioned the tiger.
"Thorne could have been someone who joined them along the way," Molly said. "Maybe they called themselves a family because it sounded better."
"The article says they all looked alike."
She peered closer at the photograph. Did the three performers resemble each other? She couldn't tell. The man wore a top hat and tails, the women long fringed dresses and beads. More to the point, did they look like her? She was short, with a wide face, curly light-brown hair and blue eyes. Could it be she had a whole group of relatives she had never met?
Her heart began to pound. "I don't know," she said. "I never heard anything about these people."
"Maybe she had a falling out with them." Stow squinted at the article.
Maybe. It was true that Fentrice rarely spoke of Callan. But she couldn't see why that should matter to Stow and his mysterious client. And there was something a little shifty about the investigator, with his shabby coat and his talk of inheritances. Would he look as sinister if his eyes weren't so close together?
She pushed the Xerox toward him. "No, no, keep it," Stow said. "I have another copy." He bit into his sandwich. There was a spot of mustard on his collar. "Did your aunt ever keep a scrapbook? Newspaper articles, things like that?"
"I don't know."
"Could you ask her?"
"I guess so," Molly said slowly. "How did you find me?"
"Paper trail. Colleges, taxes, that sort of thing. I nearly lost you in Oregon -- you were calling yourself Ariadne Travers then."
"That's my middle name."
"I thought that stuff was confidential."
"It is." She waited for him to go on, but all he said was, "What do you do in that office building, anyway?"
"Do you like it?"
"Why do you do it then?"
"For the money. What else? Do you like being a private investigator?"
"Keeps me busy."
That wasn't really an answer. Stow must have thought so too, because he added, "It's the only thing I've ever done."
They spent the rest of the lunch in silence. "Here's my card," the investigator said when they had finished. "Give me a call if you remember anything."
Molly took the card, put it in her purse. She had no intention of ever talking to him again.
Go to navigationGo to navigationGo to navigationGo to navigationGo to navigation But all that afternoon, as she sat at her desk and worked at her word processor, she thought about John Stow, about her aunt and this person who claimed to be related to her grandfather. And in the evening, after she had gone to her small apartment and cooked and eaten dinner, she wondered if she should call Fentrice.
It would be an extraordinary step, she knew. They wrote to each other at least once a week, Fentrice with her chubby black fountain pen, Molly on the computer at work. Fentrice talked about her garden, the friends with whom she played bridge, the small midwestern town where she lived. Molly told Fentrice about her succession of jobs, though she was never sure how much her aunt understood. Fentrice seemed to live in an older, slower world.
But she had been a magician, a part of the Allalie Family. She had toured the country, hopping trains, staying in boarding houses, carrying her trunk from town to town. Molly remembered the scuffed and battered trunk from her childhood; it was dark blue, with a leather straps and gold studs, and a large ornate gold lock that had reminded Molly of an ancient idol.
Were there other people in the family? It had been lonely growing up with just Fentrice and the housekeeper for company. Back then nearly everyone had had a mother and father and at least one brother or sister; Molly had felt strange, an outsider, unable to fit in no matter how hard she tried. And there had been more: whispered conversations in school that stopped when she walked up, phone calls that consisted of giggling and then a dial tone, a few mornings after Halloween when they woke to find their trees draped with toilet paper and their old car windows soaped.
As she grew older Molly came to understand that any old single woman who wore black and lived in a small town would be called a witch. That didn't diminish her feeling of isolation, of difference, though. She developed a tough exterior, a reputation for saying what she thought no matter who it would hurt, an armor of honesty that, most of the time, protected her from the jokes and insults of her classmates.
Now she moved to the phone and dialed her childhood number. It rang once, twice. Molly could picture the old phone in the alcove off the hallway, black, with a large round dial and a straight cord connecting the phone to the receiver. "Hello," Fentrice said.
"Hi. It's Molly."
"Molly? Is something wrong?"
"No. Well, I don't know. Someone was asking questions about you today."
"About me? What kind of questions?"
"Something about an inheritance. He wanted to know about your family. About your brother, and a -- a sister."
"A sister?" Fentrice sounded honestly puzzled; Molly felt relieved to hear it. So she didn't have a secret life, a hidden past. "Who does he think we are -- the Russian royal family?"
"Did he ask anything else?" Fentrice said.
"He wanted to know if you kept a scrapbook from when you were younger. Did you? Maybe if I showed it to him he'd go away."
"Tell him I have a scrapbook, and tell him I'm using it to write my memoirs. If he wants to know anything about my life he can read the book."
"Are you really?"
"I'm thinking about it. When are you coming to visit? You can help me work on it."
"I'd love to," Molly said, suddenly overcome with a desire to leave this city with its unexpected meetings, its unanswered questions, to set all her problems in her aunt's lap and forget about them. "I've got some vacation time coming -- I'll let you know when I can get away."
"Goodbye, Aunt Fentrice. I love you."
"I love you too, Molly. Don't tell this person anything."
Go to navigationGo to navigationGo to navigationGo to navigationGo to navigation Her phone rang at work the next day. Peter, she thought, and reached for the phone quickly. "Listen to this," the voice at the other end said.
It was John Stow. "I have to say I admire your persistence," Molly said. "What is it?"
"I found a review of the family's performance in Los Angeles. That's where they went after Oakland. Listen -- 'The Allalie Family, consisting of Callan and Fentrice and their numerous cousins ...'" His voice trailed off.
"So Thorne isn't mentioned. Don't you find that odd?"
"But the Tribune said she was part of the family."
"Maybe she was sick that day."
"All right. But I can't find her in any of the clippings after the Allalie Family plays Oakland. And in Los Angeles Fentrice disappears too."
"Fentrice told me she left. There's nothing mysterious there -- she just got tired of the show. And Thorne could have been sick for a long time. They didn't have penicillin in those days. Or maybe she left the show too."
"My client thinks Thorne might have been killed."
"Killed! Why? Who the hell is this client, anyway?"
"You know I can't tell you that."
"Oh, right. So your client can make all kinds of accusations, but I can't even know who he is. Or she. Who does he think murdered her? My aunt, no doubt, for the inheritance."
"He doesn't know. But like I said, I haven't been able to find Thorne. She disappeared somewhere between here and Los Angeles."
"So what are you saying? Are you trying to hurt my aunt? She's eighty-seven years old -- she doesn't need someone like you making trouble for her."
"Why do you think it would make trouble?"
"Oh, please. What else? Here's someone claiming to be related to us, claiming to be owed money -- Well, my aunt doesn't have any. That's all I'm going to say."
"I don't suppose you asked your aunt about a scrapbook," Stow said.
"Goodbye," Molly said, and put the phone down.
After she hung up she took the article Stow had given her out of her purse. She turned it over, wrote "Callan Allalie" and drew a vertical line connecting him to her mother and father, Joan and Bill Travers, killed in a car crash when she was three. She drew another descending line from her parents' names, wrote "Molly A. Travers" under that. A horizontal line linked Callan to Fentrice, another joined him and Thorne. Molly thought for a moment, then put a question mark after Thorne.
She turned the page over, looking for the author of the article. Without stopping to think she picked up a copy of the Oakland phone book. To her surprise an Andrew Dodd was listed. She dialed the number.
The phone rang five times, and then a wavering male voice said, "Hello?"
"Hello," Molly said loudly. "Is this Andrew Dodd?"
"Nothing wrong with my hearing. Who is this?"
"My name's Molly Travers. I want to ask you some questions about an article you wrote."
"The Allalie family. The magicians."
"Allalie, is it? Say, that brings back memories."
"Can I talk to you about them?"
"Sure, why not? How about tonight?"
"Tonight?" Molly said. It would mean not being home if Peter called. Hell, let Peter wait, she thought. Let him see how he likes it. "That would be fine," she said.
After work she skipped dinner and drove to Andrew Dodd's apartment in her old Honda Civic. Dodd lived in a renovated building of yellow-gray brick in downtown Oakland, not far from the old Tribune building. A yellow sign in front of the apartment said "Seniors Xing"; over that was a lozenge showing a silhouette of a man crossing the street.
She found Dodd's name and apartment number and pressed the buzzer next to it. "Who is it?" a woman's voice asked.
"Please register at the desk when you come in," the woman said. A buzzer sounded, and Molly pushed open the front door.
The registration desk was to her left, past a bank of mail- boxes. She went over and gave her name and Andrew Dodd's, and the receptionist picked up the phone and punched a three-digit number.
Andrew Dodd seemed to be taking a great deal of time to get to the phone. Molly studied the lobby with its faded maroon carpets and plush worn couches, its round wooden table and wilting centerpiece. "Mr. Dodd says to go on up," the receptionist said finally. "The elevators are through that hallway."
She took the elevator to the third floor and rang the bell to Dodd's apartment. Nothing happened. She rang again, then knocked. "In a minute," Dodd's voice said. "In a minute." She heard something being dragged across the floor and then the door opened.
Andrew Dodd looked far older than her aunt Fentrice. His gray hair was sparse on top, long and uncombed over his shirt collar. He had white stubble on his face, and deep lines, almost like scars, running from his nose to the sides of his mouth. At least he had smiled once, Molly thought. The sound she had heard was his walker, which he leaned on heavily.
"Come in," he said. "I'd offer you something but all I have is club soda." The walker had wheels on its two front legs; he turned and pushed it toward the couch. "Sit down."
Molly took an old wooden office chair in front of his desk. He sat heavily on the red and gold couch. "Allalie, is it?" he said. "Funny what you remember. I couldn't tell you what I had for breakfast this morning but I can see those people as if it was yesterday. You look a little like them, come to think of it. 'Cept you don't have the gap teeth."
Molly tried not to show her surprise. Her aunt had insisted on braces to correct her teeth. "Fentrice Allalie is my great- aunt," she said.
He nodded. "That explains it. You going to disappear now?"
"Your great-aunt -- she was a tricky one. She made me think she was Thorne, or Thorne made me think she was her -- I never did get them straightened out. They gave me the best champagne of my life that night, and you know what? The next day I stopped drinking for good. Thirteen years of Prohibition didn't do it, but they did. I'm getting thirsty just thinking about that champagne. Do you want a soda?"
"Sure. I'll get it if you like."
"No you don't, missy. I can still take care of myself." He held on to the walker and pulled himself laboriously to his feet, then moved to the kitchen.
A minute later he came back. The sodas rested on a tray attached to the top of the walker. "Give you a piece of advice, if you like," Dodd said. "Don't get old."
Molly laughed. Dodd didn't; perhaps it hadn't been a joke. "What do you want to know about the Allalies? Writing a family history?"
"Something like that. What do you remember about them?"
"You read the article?" he asked. Molly nodded. "Did you see anything strange about it?"
She shook her head.
"It was all bullshit -- pardon my French." He grinned. Molly said nothing, waiting for him to go on. "My editor didn't notice either, luckily. I practically made the whole thing up."
"Why?" He took a sip of his soda. "You sure you're not going to disappear? I went backstage to the trap room after the performance, and they gave me the runaround. No answers to my questions, lots of confusion --" He shook his head. "Fireworks, and music, and people dancing and laughing ... I can still hear that damn song they sang. Couple years after the interview I heard it at a club and nearly went crazy. 'Got Everything,' by King Oliver." He looked at her shrewdly. "That name means nothing to you, does it?"
She shook her head.
"I don't remember the end of the interview. I woke up on the trolley going home. The next day I had to write something. My notebook was blank -- all the questions I'd planned to ask and the notes I'd taken were gone. They'd probably torn the pages out."
Molly nodded, encouraging him to continue.
"Never took a drink again," Dodd said. He sipped at his soda. "That Fentrice. Is she still alive?"
"Yes. She raised me."
"That must have been something."
"What do you mean?"
"She was a wild one. Smoking in public, wearing scanty clothing. Did you know there was a room at the Paramount where women would go to smoke, so the men wouldn't see them? I got the feeling there was nothing Fentrice wouldn't do."
"Actually she's very staid. She gardens, plays bridge. She doesn't smoke at all."
"Doesn't she? Hell, I shouldn't be surprised. What's one more disguise to that family?"
"That's what I remember from that night. The show didn't end when they left the stage. They put on another show just for me, for an audience of one. And your aunt did the same for you."
"Why would she do that?"
"Why did they do anything? Why did they take my notes? I could have given them damn good publicity."
"I think I know my aunt better than you do."
"I don't think anyone knew that woman. Well, maybe her family did."
"I'm her family."
"Right." He drank. "And Thorne and Callan? What happened to them?"
"Callan died. I never heard of Thorne until yesterday."
"Well. So they dumped their sister and she went off to live on her own. Raised a kid. Not the ending I would have guessed."
"What I want to know, Mr. Dodd -- Are you sure Thorne was their sister? Couldn't they have called themselves a family for the publicity?"
"They could have, I guess. But they all looked a hell of a lot alike. I wonder why she never told you about them."
"So do I. Did a guy named John Stow call you?"
"He's interested in my family for some reason. He's the one who showed me the clipping in the Tribune. If he does call, I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell him anything."
"Like I said, I don't know anything to tell. Hey, maybe I can help you look into things. I haven't done any reporting in a long time."
"Maybe," Molly said.
"Listen to her, so polite. And all the while she's thinking, How do I get rid of this old man? The last thing I need is him tagging along."
"I wasn't --"
The door opened and a woman in a blue dress suit came in. Her hair was ivory-white, forming a soft cloud around her face, and she wore glasses which hung from a chain around her neck. She went over to Dodd and kissed him on the cheek.
"My wife, Bess," Dodd said proudly. He smiled, deep lines scoring his face. "Married her the same year I did that interview, as a matter of fact."
"Hello," Bess Dodd said. She turned to her husband. "Carolyn and the kids dropped me off -- she's looking for a parking space."
Kids? Molly thought. She had thought Dodd alone and friendless, an anonymous old man who spent his days watching television or sitting on a bus bench. "I should be going," she said.
"All right," Dodd said. "Let me know what happens."
Molly took the elevator to the lobby. As she left the building she held the door open for a middle-aged woman, a younger woman and two noisy children about five and nine. Grandkids and great-grandkids, she thought. Thinking of large families she walked to her car and drove home.