Excerpt from Spirits Onstage

     "Aha! Here are some other folks you know. Mr. and Mrs. Hastings."
     Oh, dear. I did indeed know Mrs. Hastings. I'd never actually met Mr. Hastings, although he'd banned me from his law offices a year or so prior, when I was in pursuit of a murderer. Not that I pursue murderers on a regular basis, you understand. It just worked out that way.
     "Mrs. Majesty! How lovely to see you this evening." Laura Hastings, whose only son had died several months before this—which was why I'd been in Mr. Hastings' law offices—was delighted to see me. I could tell.
     "It's wonderful to see you, too," I said, trying to ignore her husband's glare.
     "And here's Detective Sam Rotondo," said Harold, not mincing words this time.
     I saw Mr. Hastings' lips writhe a little before he unbent. As well he should have. If not for Sam and me, he'd have been fleeced of a good deal of money and his son's murderer would never have been apprehended.
     "How do you do, Mrs. Majesty. Detective Rotondo." His voice softened when he spoke Sam's name. "I appreciate the good work you people did in breaking up that land swindle."
     "You're welcome," said Sam. Stolidly, I'm sure I needn't add. He shook hands with both of the Hastings.
     "Oh, and there's Connie and Max Van der Linden!" Harold cried with glee.
     He hauled me over to a younger couple. I resisted slightly, but only because the couple's last name sounded German to me, and I'd held a grudge against Germans ever since they all but murdered my Billy. Irrational, I know. But I'm just a lowly human, and humans are irrational creatures.
     Harold, who knew me well, leaned close and whispered in my ear, "They're Dutch, so you're free to like them if you want to."
     I poked him in the ribs, but didn't respond. Sam, the rat, smiled slightly. I saw him. Well, I guess it was better than his usual scowl.
     Harold said effusively, "Connie and Max, please allow me to introduce you to Mrs. Majesty and Detective Sam Rotondo. Daisy's the one I told you about, Connie."
     The Van der Lindens were an attractive couple. He was tall and lean, and she was a little taller than I am—I'm five feet, four inches—and also lean. They both look fresh-faced and as if they didn't strive to achieve boredom. I instantly liked them for it—and the fact they weren't German—and smiled.
     "How do you do?" I asked them both together.
     "I'm so very happy to meet you, Mrs. Majesty. Harold has told us all about you. I understand you sing!" Mrs. Van der Linden grabbed my hand and pumped it as if she expected water to gush from my mouth.
     Her words startled me. "Sing? Me?" I glanced at Harold, puzzled, but he only grinned more broadly.
     "She has a good voice," said Sam. That startled me, too. Sam wasn't given to complimenting people, especially me.
     "Sing? Well... I sing in the choir at the First Methodist-Episcopal Church, but I'm only an alto."
     "Can you sing contralto?" asked Mr. Van der Linden. He, too, appeared rather avid.
     What was going on here? And what in the world was a contralto? I vaguely remembered reading about a contralto in a Sherlock Holmes story, but darned if I could remember which one.
     "I... I don't know. What's a contralto?" Then I felt stupid.
     But the Van der Lindens only laughed. The mister said, "I'm sorry. You must think we've gone 'round the bend. But you see, we're interested in putting together a little musical operetta company. We're thinking of staging light operas like The Merry Widow and perhaps some of Gilbert and Sullivan's works."
     "What fun," I said, still confused. Did they want the lowly me to sing in their operettas? Actually... that did sound like fun. "I loved The Merry Widow, when I saw it at the Shakespeare Club."
     "Daisy is a wonderful seamstress, too," said Harold, sounding coy.
     Was he volunteering me for something? I slipped him a glance. He looked innocent. I considered this a very bad sign.
     "Oh, how marvelous!" cried Ms. Van der Linden, clasping her hands to her more or less nonexistent bosom.
     Didn't work. Harold interrupted me. "I'm a marvelous baritone," said he with his customary modesty (I'm joking).
     "Yes, you are," said Mrs. Van der Linden, giggling. On her a giggle sounded just about right.
     "Do you sing, Inspector?" Mr. V asked Sam.
     "Detective," said Sam. "Not really."
     "I beg your pardon. Detective. You have a deep voice. I'd bet, if I were a betting man, that you'd sing bass."
     "Maybe," said Sam, as voluble as ever.
     "Let's discuss this more after dinner," Harold suggested. "I want to introduce Daisy and Sam to a couple of other people."
     He tugged on my arm, and I lurched after him, bringing Sam along with me. "Harold Kincaid, is this why your mother has been in such a lather this past week? Did she want to get me to sing in some stupid operetta?"
     "That would be telling," said Harold with a laugh.
     I wasn't sure I approved of this nonsense, and I was certain Sam didn't. His scowl could have wilted roses.
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