The Zig Zag Girl

The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths Read Free Book Online

Book: The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths Read Free Book Online
Authors: Elly Griffiths
in the sun. It was a snug little venue, somehow managing to be both grand and welcoming at once. ‘Max Mephisto’ screamed the billboards. Max pulled his hat down over his eyes and headed off to find the stage door. The last thing he wanted was to be spotted looking admiringly at his own posters.
    The stage door was in a side street. It was open and the narrow hallway full of boxes and trunks. Max recognised his own stage kit and some boxes labelled AM. Who the hell was AM? He tried to remember who was on the bill with him this week. A comedian, but then there are comedians everywhere these days. A juggler that he last saw – pissed out of his head – trying to get off with a waxwork in Blackpool. Some girls, of course. After a while all the girls merge into one – feathers and headdresses and lipsticked smiles. All except Ethel. She was different.
    He saluted the commissionaire (a huge man who seemed wedged into his booth) and made his way towards the auditorium. He was slightly late and knew he’d have to wait his turn. Monday band calls operate on a strictly first-come-first-served basis. Max might be top of the bill, but as he hadn’t got his music in front of the orchestra first, he would be condemned to a morning of listening to ‘The Chocolate Soldier’ played (fortissimo) by a gaggle of amateur musicians. As he made his way through the stalls, he saw that the process had already started. A sharp-suited young man stood on stage tapping his foot and from thepit came the sound of two violins and a cello tuning up half-heartedly. A voice behind Max said, ‘Lot of bloody upstarts in the business these days.’
    Max turned and looked into the watery eyes of Geronimo the Juggling Genius, aka Bert Hoskins from Hartlepool.
    ‘Hallo, Bert.’
    ‘Good to see you, Max, you old bastard.’
    ‘Likewise, Bert.’
    ‘Do you know smarty-bloody-pants up there?’ Bert gestured towards the stage with an unlit cigarette.
    ‘Yes. I’m afraid I do.’
    He had recognised him immediately. Tony Mulholland. And he remembered almost the last time he’d seen Tony, standing on a beach watching Max’s great invention burn to ashes. With Charis inside.
    *
    Max didn’t get a chance to speak to Tony until after the band call. Tony took a long time going through his music, speaking in a low, expressionless voice that didn’t carry into the auditorium. When he had finished, he didn’t go into the stalls to join the other pros. He stalked out, watched resentfully by the orchestra. Max too viewed his retreating pinstriped back with dislike. What the hell was Tony doing here? They all thought that he had given up the stage. Besides, Max had a clause in his contract saying that he would always be the only magician on the bill. Tony had quite a name before the war. He specialised in card tricks and mesmerism, ending his act by hypnotising a member of the audience. It was a different kind ofmagic from Max’s, but there was no doubt that Tony was an extremely polished performer, smooth and slightly dangerous. Max had seen him work once and there was something chilling about watching Tony staring into a young woman’s eyes and then leading her onto the stage where she would bark like a dog at his command. Tony had been brought into the Magic Men to concentrate on what Major Gormley called ‘mind-games’. And in this he had certainly succeeded.
    After Tony, a comedy dance troupe practised tap-dancing to ‘Colonel Bogey’. Then a woman with a voice like a corncrake trilled her way through ‘Cherry Ripe’. Max took the stage still shaking her top notes out of his ears.
    ‘Hello, Max. Good to see you again.’
    ‘Hello, Franz. How are you?’
    The musical director at the Theatre Royal was a once-famous violinist, a German Jew who had been interned during the war. He had always been good to Max (a conductor can ruin a young pro’s act – starting too late or too early, drowning out his gags) and now seemed genuinely moved to see him

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