Pluto's Child

by DJ

Chapter 31

Silence prevailed as Gypsy turned back to his exercises, and Sandy's thoughts turned to the food still being consumed next door; but no-one could tell from Gypsy's frozen expression whether leaving the dressing room would be considered a desertion; Gypsy's reactions, during the approach to a performance, being so unpredictable. No one moved, no one spoke, as the first sign of nerves began to show. "This is not a free peep show. Please get out and leave me alone, all of you." But before anyone could move, the door flew open and Erica stormed in with her bottom lip stuck out a mile. She ran straight to Gypsy who dropped on one knee to gather her in his arms. "Hey, what is this? What's wrong, baby?"

As soon as her arms were tightly wrapped round her father's neck, Erica began to cry. Lorna came into the room carrying the doll, now very disheveled; Jo followed her in, and said, "Erica's taken a sudden dislike to the doll, too, Gypsy. She threw it under the buffet table and, when one of Arthur's waiters retrieved it and tried to give it back, she kicked him."

Concern turned to relief as Gypsy rose with Erica in his arms, grimacing at the strain on his back. "It's all right, baby, you don't have to keep the doll, but you shouldn't have kicked anyone, should you?" He seated Erica on the massage table and, thinking he was going to let go of her, Erica tightened her hold on him and cried even louder.

Ed took the doll from Lorna and ripped the clothes from it. He looked at Gypsy who nodded to him, and within seconds his mighty hands reduced the doll to bits of plastic, which he held out to Barney. The bodyguard put on a blue glove and picked something round and shiny from the debris and held it up for Gypsy to see. "You were right as usual, Gypsy, this is a homing device. Looks like someone's after her all right."

"Haven't I been trying to tell you that?" Gypsy snapped. "This is not over yet." He caressed Erica's curls. "It's all right now, baby, the d oll can't do you any harm. Look, Uncle Ed has broken it into little pieces."

Erica peeped suspiciously at Ed and her sobbing quietened. Lorna moved up alongside Gypsy to take the child in her arms but it was some time before Gypsy could break the strangle hold she had on him. When Erica cuddled up in Lorna's arms at last, Gypsy turned to the rest of the gathering with a sigh of relief. "Now, can we get some work done, please? We're behind schedule." As if switched off at the mains the tension evaporated, and Gypsy led the way out of the dressing room enroute for the stage.

Erskine and Barney were the last to leave and Erskine stopped Barney at the door. "What are you going to do about this new toy?"

"Well, first of all I'm going to contact the Yard" Barney weighed the bug in his hand and fished in his pocket for an evidence bag to drop the bug in. ". It's obvious someone wants to trace the kid's movements. I'll have Mr. Bessey bring the girl from the office box here and I'll ask her to help someone from the police to do a photo fit of the lady who delivered the doll." He held the bag holding the bug up. "It's amazing how Erica and Gypsy both knew about this. It's a pity Gypsy can't use a little of his magic on this and tell us where it came from"

"He might even do that." From the look on his face, Barney knew Erskine wasn't joking. Opening the door, the manager led the way out of the dressing room and bounced off Derek Bessey on his way in. Derek stepped back a pace as they apologized to one another and then he said, "It is just a rumour, isn't it; about the doll?"

"I'm afraid not." Barney showed him the bug. "This was inside it."

Derek stared at the bug. "Oh, my God! I only wish I had better news, the girl who accepted the doll said it was a tall blonde lady with a posh accent."

"Would she be willing to identify the lady from a photo-fit?"

"I'm sure she would."

"All right, then. I'll call the Yard and have someone come over." As they walked towards the stage, Barney pulled out his cell phone and got in touch with The Yard, and Derek hurried off to talk once more to the girl who had accepted the doll.

Out on the stage, they found Gypsy finishing a warm-up routine with his dancers prior to the rehearsal. He joined Erskine and Barney in the wings. "So what's happening?" Barney explained his call to The Yard. Gypsy nodded and went back on stage for the first part of the rehearsal. The photo-fit technician arrived and in minutes had a likeness of the doll lady. When Gypsy took a break, Barney called him over to take a look at the picture. Gypsy stared at it and his face drained of colour. "Gillian Achres!"

Manuel frowned at him. "Are you sure?"

Gypsy nodded and sat down suddenly on a stool, kept in the wings for his own use. "It's Gillian all right." He blinked up at Barney. "Cunliffe! Why didn't I think of it before?"

"About what?"

"I should have recognized the name. God, how could I be so stupid? Gillian's middle name is Cunliffe. Excuse me I have to visit the bathroom."

They followed Gypsy back to his dressing room and waited while he threw up in the toilet then washed his face and hands. Barney took out his notebook and a pen and searched through it. He showed Gypsy and Manuel a list of seventy-two names. All but three were ticked off. "MacCaffrey told Manuel there were seventy two members of the MacCaffrey family still living. We've located sixty-nine of them. Knowing the name of Cunliffe is linked to the family, it's possible Gillian is one of the missing three."

Gypsy sat down at his makeup table with a look of dejection. "I'll tell you something else I've just thought of. Remember me telling you guys about MacCaffrey arriving at the Visick Street house when we caught Guido trying to molest Ramon? Guido escaped out of the back bedroom window, and MacCaffrey offered to go looking for him in his car. I'll bet anything it was MacCaffrey who helped him climb out of the window and got him away from the house."

Barney put his book away. "Right, I'll get things moving to find Ms. Achres and investigate her background. Thanks for this information, Gypsy."

Gypsy leaned closer to the make-up mirror and began to add a deeper colour to the scar running down the left side of' his nose. "I still say we should have the dogs here; Butch at least. And will someone ask Mr. Benchley to make me a snack; I lost a load of carboes just now."

Man uel perched on the edge of the bench, watching him work. "Do you really think the dogs are necessary? It is bad enough having them in the house at Chilvers without -. "

Gypsy looked up quickly. "Dad, Chilvers isn't a gypsy camp and neither is this theatre." He resumed work on his face. "I just feel Butch is the best for sniffing out any trouble, I' ve not been wrong before."

"Surely Barney can handle things. The place is swarming with his men and Arthur Benchley has vouched for all his staff, so just relax and get the pre-run over so I can take Erica home to the safety of our house."

Gypsy sat back to study his handy-work before standing to remove his pants and step into the legs of his black one–piece suit that Daniel held ready. "I suppose you're right." He wriggled his way into the suit and adjusted it across his shoulders so that Daniel could zip it closed. "Just make sure Erica doesn't wander about too much while she's here." He slipped his arms into the sequined bolero Daniel held, and allowed his dresser to clip it to the suit to stop it flying about when he was dancing. "Remember the last time she went walkabout on her own and we found her asleep in the dog pen?"

Before Manuel could reply, the door opened and Erskine walked in, looking anxiously at his watch, followed by Arthur carrying a plate of sandwiches. "Five minutes to go, Gypsy"

"Okay, okay. Dios Mio; d id you ever know me to be late even for a pre-run?" He grabbed a sandwich with one hand and a comb with the other. He ate the sandwich and gave his hair another quick combing then studied his reflection while Erskine's right foot tapped impatiently on the floor. "There now, how is that for a stunner?"

"Conceited hussy!"

Gypsy opened his mouth to give a snide return when Erica barged into the room. "Daddy, you're going to be late and I've come to fetch you:"

Gypsy grinned as he leaned down to pull her into a hug. "I'm late am I? Okay Miss Bossy-boots; you'd better get me to the stage, sharpish." Straightening up, he spun round in front of her and struck a theatrical pose. "How do I look, Munchkin?"

Erica looked him up and down with the serious gaze of a seasoned critic. "You look very pretty in your new costume, Daddy, I like it; but you've forgotten to put your shoes on."

Erskine glared at him and said in a mock Cockney accent, "Yer'll look pretty ah t de' end a' my toe if yer don' get froo dis doah!" While Gypsy ate the rest of the sandwiches, Daniel helped him on with his shoes. Then Erskine let out a low growl and pointed to the door, and in pretence of horror, Gypsy clapped a hand over his mouth and hurried from the dressing room with saucer-wide eyes; with Erica copying his every action and expression, much to the amusement of all who witnessed their departure. Sandy's heart sank; knowing Gypsy was trying to lighten the mood, the news about Gillian Achres, had placed on everyone.

One minute after they reached the wings, the cue came from the program director, and Gypsy's twenty-piece orchestra at the rear of the stage began the intro. Gypsy's dancers, plus Different Hats, were already on stage and the tabs were moved up as they went into a streamlined version of " The Gypsy" and, at the end of the first chorus, Gypsy made his entrance with a radio mike in his hand. He had only just reached the centre front when his director, in the sixth row front, was on his feet and waving his arms about. " Cut, cut!" Everyone on stage came to an untidy halt.

Gypsy frowned at him; knowing it had to be serious for Dave to break into the rehearsal. The director hurried forward, pointing to a spot behind Gypsy. He turned and saw his new keyboard player slumping forward over the instrument, clutching his side. Gaskin was the first to move towards him with Gypsy close behind as the lad sank to the floor. Everyone else crowded round as Gypsy pillowed the lad's head in his lap, and Dave buried his head in his hands. "Oh Mother! This isn't happening!"

At 2.45, Sandy heard someone enter the box Gypsy had requisitioned for his own party for the evening, and saw Erskine move towards him. On stage, Gypsy sat at the keyboard, talking to Gaskin while his group and dancers stood around him. As Erskine sat down beside him, Sandy asked how Mark the keyboard player was. " In a bad way, son; on his way to hospital with suspected gall-bladder trouble and won't be out for some time."

"Gall stones?" Sandy stared at him. "At his age; he's only twenty?"

"It happened to David Cassidy."

"So who's going to play the keyboards?"

"Dunno, mate." Erskine pointed with his cigar to where the program director was talking to along haired lad with a wide girth and even as they watched, the gathering broke up and Gypsy vacated his seat to walk off stage with the director. "They're trying Danny out but they could use you down there, son. Danny isn't his best on the ivories."

"Not me, man! I'd die of fright the minute the curtain went up."

"Gypsy needs you down there, son, and not just for the music."

"Sorry, not tonight, Erskine. Trish is arriving' soon, and I did promise I'd stay with her." As the pre-run got under way again, Sandy was aware of Erskine glancing at him from time to time, but he was determined not to be drawn into a confrontation with him. He was no match for the wily old wheeler-dealer but he would rather face Erskine's disappointment than risk upsetting Trish again.

There were several hiccups, some due to technical faults; others due to genuine misunderstandings caused by everyone being affected by the latest turn of events, all of which added to Gypsy's pre-show nerves. Halfway through the second number, he actually stopped singing and yelled into the wings for someone to go and s it in the stalls. Within minutes Ed appeared, shepherding Arthur and his team, and those theatre employees and roadies not doing anything for a few minutes, into the stalls; Gypsy needed an audience to perform to, to flirt with and bring out the showman in him. Now he had one he opened up and at the end of the pre-run the producer and his director were more than satisfied, and Gypsy was allowed to escape to his dressing room.

When Sandy arrived in the corridor leading to the dressing room, he found it packed with press and T.V. reporters clamoring for a statement from Erskine who was backed up against dressing room door, waving his unlit cigar calmly in the air. Sandy listened to the questions being fired at him and his heart sank. Someone had spilled the story about the doll. In the lounge Sandy found Manuel and Derek having coffee, hardly noticing Sandy as they talked intensely about ballet and opera; and Jo and Lorna were about to take Erica for an ice-cream. Inside the dressing room proper, he found Gypsy having a shower, with Ed fussing round him like a mother hen, while Daniel clucked unhappily over the costumes, the black one already having a split in it.

Gypsy looked tired and subdued as he stepped out of the bathroom and sat down on the settee to have Ed attend to a blister on the stump where three outer toes had once been on his left foot, but he still managed a smile for Sandy. "I could do with some coffee, if Dad and Derek haven't drunk it all. How about you, Ed? Sandy?"

"Yes, sir!" Ed replied without looking up. "That's about the best offer I've had all day."

As Sandy turned to go back into the lounge, Gypsy couldn't resist a dig. "No sugar for him, he is getting too fat."

"Speak for yourself," Ed shot back. "You've done tore your costume for the opening number." As if to confirm his statement Daniel held up the damaged costume. By his hang-dog expression they knew he could not repair it in time for the show.

Gypsy's face grew solemn. "What do I do for a costume; go on stage in the nude?"

Sandy couldn't help laughing as he opened the door. "That would cause a stir, or set a new trend."

Manuel and Derek looked up as Sandy went to the percolator and poured three cups of coffee, and Manuel asked, "What would set a new trend?"

"Gypsy goin' on stage in 'is birthday suit." Sandy grinned at him. "Gone and torn 'is opening costume, 'e 'as."

When he returned to the dressing room, carefully balancing the cups of coffee, Manuel went with him. "I have something you might like to wear instead, Gypsy. It was meant to be a surprise for your birthday but it might do for the show, it's a shirt my sister Carlotta has made for you."

"A shirt; what is so special about a shirt?"

Manuel smiled. "In gossamer fine lace? It would look good with your black silk pants. It's at Chilvers; I could go and fetch it if you like."

Gypsy didn't seem very enthusiastic about it but Daniel signaled for Manuel to fetch it anyway, and five minutes after he left, Gypsy remembered Manuel was supposed to have taken Erica home with him.

"I shouldn't worry too much," Ed said affably, "that daughter of yours is having herself' a real good time taking this old place apart. That one is getting the feel of the greasepaint in her bones: right enough; so you just relax and get some rest while she isn't here to boss you around."

"Do I have a choice?" Gypsy handed his empty coffee cup to Sandy and lay down on the settee. Ed made him comfortable and tucked a rug round him. Sandy wished he didn't have to leave him but Trish was due to arrive at the stage door and he crept out when he was sure Gypsy was falling asleep. He arrived at the stage door, arriving there in time to see Trish walk in. Immediately she saw him she gave a squeal of delight and flung herself at him, and without waiting for him to recover from his surprise she kissed him hard. Then she smiled up at him. "Where can we talk, I have something to tell you?"

Amused at her excitement, Sandy hurried her back to the dressing room where they found Manuel the only occupant of the outer dressing room. He offered to leave them alone, "That's all right Manuel," Trish said, "I'd like you and Gypsy to be the first to know, anyway." Gazing up into Sandy's eyes she asked with a bubbling laugh, "How do you feel about being a daddy again? "

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