by TT (a.m.tilmouth.s99 at cranfield.ac.uk)
"He's there, the Phantom of the Opera."
The boat came into view; it sailed across the misted water like a
bird through air. Lights glinted and flickered under the surface like
millions of tiny stars.
"Beware the Phantom of the Opera."
The great black figure of a man moved in time with the music as he
poled the punt across the lake. Only his white mask broke the darkness of
his frame as he gazed lovingly down at the girl sitting at his feet; she
in turn stared with wonder into the blackness beyond the boat. "In all
Mrs Lakes waved her hands madly at the figures on the stage.
"No, no, no, Roger, that's far too forceful. You're singing a love
song to the girl of your dreams, not trying to blast her out of the boat."
The boat stopped and the Phantom looked up from his charge; in an instant
the mist and lights disappeared.
"Well, I think he's trying to scare her, Mrs Lakes. No-one in their
right mind is going to go out with a psychopathic freak by choice." In the
boat, Rachel shuddered.
"Well, luckily you're not the director. I am, so punt that thing
back into the wings and do it properly this time." She turned as Dodger
stuck his foot outside of the boat and swivelled it round, Rachel flicked
her hair out of her face as it spun and glanced into the rafters of the
"I'm so sorry, Mr King. They're usually so much more...photogenic."
The journalist tapped his android companion on the shoulder and
smiled. "That's all right, Mrs Lakes. Old Tinny here will just have to
redo the photos; not a problem at all." His Scottish accent drifted up
onto the stage as Rachel prepared to go out again. She smiled as she
remembered Holmes's precise English accent she had heard only a couple
of days before. Who'd have thought it could be changed so dramatically?
Dodger squeezed her shoulder and put on his worse French accent.
"Are you ready, my sweet Christine, to descend once again to the lair of
the Opera Ghost?" Despite herself she laughed as Dodger raised her hand
to his lips and pretended to give it a sloppy kiss.
"Behave, Dodger. You'll ruin your makeup."
Dodger stroked his powder-white face. "Do you think it's my colour?"
"Oh, certainly. Skull white suits you so well."
He grinned as Mrs Lakes shouted for music offstage. "Here we go
again. Hold tight, Ray."
Once again the boat glided out on the lake and the sirens stuck up
their warning song. "He's there, the Phantom of the Opera. Beware the
Phantom of the Opera." As the two young actors began their duet, Holmes
leaned over to Watson, who for once wore no facemask.
"Good, aren't they?" he whispered, pretending to line up Watson's
camera at the stage.
"Excellent, I'd say, but no sign of this Phantom chap yet, though."
Holmes raised the angle of the camera. "He must be somewhere or he
wouldn't be able to tip the girl on her performance. Keep shooting around
the stage. I'll try and arrange a backstage tour for us a bit later."
On stage the fainting form of Christine lay on a bed of cushions
while the Ghost hammered out his nightmarish music on the pipe organ. All
at once the Ghost stopped playing.
The drama teacher rose from where she had been talking to the
technician. "Roger, why have you stopped?"
Dodger was sitting bolt-upright, eyes looking wildly around the
stage. "Someone else is playing an organ."
Mrs Lakes snorted. "Impossible. The music block's not anywhere near
here." Then softly at first, but then growing louder music drifted into
the room. On the bed of cushions Rachel sat up moaning and closed her
eyes; she was deathly white and shaking.
Dodger listened for a minute then pointed. "It's coming from
beneath the stage; listen." As they all listened transfixed, singing
started up from somewhere below. Tears began to flow down Rachel's cheeks,
leaving little lines in the stage makeup. The words were in French but
hard and blunt in contrast to the soft lullaby of the music. By the time
the song was a minute old Rachel started to sway; as the last notes of the
music faded she collapsed back onto the cushions.
Dodger jumped over the stage organ and bent over her. "She's out
Everyone began to pile onto the stage. Mrs Lakes fought her way
through the crowd of other young actors. "Helen, run and get the nurse.
Everyone else, back to your seats; this is not a circus."
A boy next to Holmes made the sign of the cross. "It's him again. I
told you this play is bad news." Muttering started up among the other
"Gordon Davis, I don't want to hear another word. Everyone get off
the stage, now
As the crowd dispelled, Holmes caught Gordon by the jacket shoulder
and pulled him over to the side of the room. "Martin King, journalist. I
wonder if you can tell me what you meant by that statement."
Gordon shrugged and dug his hands in his pockets. "Exactly what I
said, mister. My brother was a stagehand last time they did the play; he
said a boy fell to his death through a trapdoor. Ever since there's been
rumours of a presence around the stage and especially under it."
Gordon paused and looked around before lowering his voice. "And it's
got worse since the play started, I'm on my third year of theatre
management, so I've done more than one of these plays. No one will work
alone under the stage any more. Even where that girl Bell fell down there
last week, everybody had to wait for the stagehands to get flashlights and
form into groups before they went down, even though we could hear her
screaming the whole time."
Holmes nodded and noted everything down on an electronic notepad.
"Do you know why the girl didn't die this time?"
Gordon shrugged. "The lift wasn't that far down, only on the next
level. She was lucky just to break a leg."
The boy nodded and fled the room.
By this time the nurse had arrived, carrying a small medical bag.
Rachel was lifted off the stage and carried into a back room. After a ten
minutes or so Dodger came out, still in his stage makeup, and beckoned the
journalist over. "Ray's asking for you, Mr King."
"Is she all right?"
"Well enough." The boy disappeared back through the door and Holmes
and Watson followed.
Their charge was sitting up on an armchair that had obviously been
used many times over on the stage. She was still deathly pale and rubbing
her head as if to ease a headache. When she saw Holmes she reached out and
hand and shook his warmly. "I am Rachel Morris, Mr King, I'm sorry if my
faint upset your visit here. I have not been well recently and have
perhaps overexerted myself." She smiled warmly and gripped his hand.
Holmes felt four sharp corners dig into his palm. He removed his
hand from hers and casually slipped the object she had given him into his
pocket. "No problem, missy. I've gone to enough of these things to know how
tired the actors get just before the performance." He laughed loudly and
slapped Watson on the back. "Come on, Tinny, let's see if we can't get a
It didn't take much persuasion to convince Mrs Lakes to show them
'round; she proudly showed them all over the stage and the drama department
it backed onto. After some subtle questioning Holmes slipped in a inquiry
about the death of the boy.
"I can't tell you much about that, really -- before my time. I've
only been here a couple of years."
"Still, I only need enough to do a brief footnote, Mrs Lakes. You
have no idea how much a bit of sensationalism pads out the circulation of
a local newspaper... and ticket sales, for that matter."
Mrs Lakes smiled slightly as she lead them into the costume
department. "I really know very little. A trapdoor was left open on the
last scene of the play, when the Phantom disappears after Christine has
left him. As the boy playing the part of the Phantom stepped onto the door
to be lowered down, it gave way and he fell to his death." She paused.
"Tragic, really; the teacher who was producing the play committed suicide
soon after, couldn't cope with the guilt, I guess... And now here we are.
The grandest costume in the entire play." She stopped in front of a
dressmaker's dummy with a large sheet of fabric draped over it. The fabric
bulged in weird places.
"Ten of our design students worked for over a month to get this
piece done -- in their spare time, as well -- and in my opinion their
dedication was well worth it. Mr King, I give you the Red Death." The
fabric draped over the piece slipped off and fell to the floor to reveal...
an empty manikin.
On to Part 4!
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