Read Wildwood Creek Online

Authors: Lisa Wingate

Tags: #FIC042000, #FIC042040, #FIC027020, #Missing persons—Fiction

Wildwood Creek (4 page)

BOOK: Wildwood Creek
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Her gaze drifted out the window. “So picture this: There I am standing in this room at yet another callback, and there are seven people behind the table, and I don’t know who they all are, but they’re having this discussion about me like I’m not even there. Then, at one end of the table, a guy points out that maybe I’m too fat. He asks me, right
in front
of
everybody,
what size I am. To my total and complete mortification, he goes on to guess about a size sixteen—which is
bigger
than I actually am. By this time, I don’t care if I get a job or not. I just want to crawl off in a hole somewhere and go belly-up. Maybe this kind of stuff is pretty typical in Hollywood, but I’m not used to having people analyze me right
in front
of me. I thought the next thing they were going to do was ask to look at my teeth. I was so glad when it was over and they let me go back out to the hall. I almost just left.”

“Oh, Kim . . .” Suddenly, I wanted to rush the doors of the Berman and thump some heads. How dare they!

Sighing, she rested her chin on her hand. “And then a few more people came and went from the room. All girls about my age. There we are, trying to figure out who’s the prettiest and who’s the skinniest. It wasn’t too long before they called me into there again and explained to me about the part. Then they handed me a packet of information for Bathhouse and Laundry Girl Number Three, including the schedule for costume fittings, legal meetings, and cast meetings. Then I had a preliminary legal debriefing where they threatened me with my life if I leak any details about the show. There’s also a massive health questionnaire to make sure I’m not likely to drop dead out there in the boonies, and then they sent me on my way. I tried to hang around and find you, but a security guy nabbed me and said I should check my packet for my
designated times
to report downstairs. I tried to chat him
up, but even my considerable folksy charms had no effect on him. I know you find that hard to believe, but it’s true.”

She pushed her empty glass to the edge of the table, so the waitress could pick it up. “How was your first day as a great big production assistant?”

“Scary.” It was the best way I could think of to describe it. “I’m telling you, Tova Kask neither eats, nor takes coffee breaks. She hates me and wishes I weren’t there, but other than
that
, there were some really neat things about the day. . . .”

Chapter 5

A
LLIE
K
IRKLAND
M
ARCH
, P
RESENT
D
AY

W
ork. Day four. Complete insanity.

When I arrived at 11:42 after morning classes as usual, the corridor outside the costuming rooms was piled with boxes of fabrics, ribbons and notions, fasteners, vintage buttons, hats, gloves, shoes, and accessories.

“What do you mean by telling me the costuming crew cannot report here until April
ninth
?” Tova’s voice echoed down the hall. “They must take charge of their area now! How am I to accomplish anything when he has saddled me with a part-time,
untrained
college girl and a full-time
ninny
at the loading dock, as well as costuming personnel who will not report for
two weeks
? And now this edict to hire pre-production help locally? Where am I to find
qualified
people in this
backwash
of a town? I need underlings who know what they are doing. I haven’t time to nursemaid them. I have already been given one of his
pets
to look after, and now
this
? It is impossible even for
me
!”

The slipknot in my stomach yanked tight. I considered running the other way, but there was a man waiting with a large crate down there. He gave me a look that said,
Lady,
I’ve got a wife and kids to support, and I need this job. Please don’t make me go in there and ask where she wants this.

I skirted Tova’s door and met the deliveryman at the end of the hall. Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor a tyrannical boss was going to rob me of the opportunity this summer could provide. Strange though it may be, this was my dream.

I routed the delivery, then went back to Tova’s office to make sure she knew I had arrived on time and started work. Dread circled as I walked in the door.

Tova had just finished her call, but she was still clutching the cell phone, trying to strangle the life out of it. “It is eleven
fifty-eight
.”

I thumbed over my shoulder toward the other rooms. “The installer was in the hall with the CAD system and the pattern plotter for costuming. I figured he was waiting for you, but I didn’t know how long you’d be, so I took care of it. I hope that’s okay.”

Despite the fact that her cheeks were red with emotion, she looked fresh as a daisy . . . or a pitcher plant—something attractive to look at, but deadly. “Please, do check with me when you wander in, so I can help you to prioritize your tasks.” Standing up, she dropped the cell phone into a suitcase-sized Coach bag before slinging it over her shoulder.

“I’ll be sure to do that in the future.”

She began gathering notebooks. I hesitated, unsure if I had been dismissed or if I should wait to be insulted some more. The office looked like a storm had blown through. Where in the world had all the new stuff come from?

She looked up suddenly, the way people do when they realize innately that you’ve been analyzing.

“Is there a purpose in your hovering there, Allison?” As far as I could remember, it was the first time she’d addressed me by name since the interview.

“I was just wondering . . .”
If you have a pulse.
“Should I go back and help the installer, work on the costuming rooms, or help with routing the backlog at the loading dock? It looks like Stevie’s got more than he can handle. There’s stuff piled at the end of the hall.” I’d already noticed that Stevie, the full-time production assistant, spent as much time upstairs as he could. “Or is there something else you want me to do?”

“Yes, that will be fine.” She returned to her notebook, dismissing me. “I will be leaving shortly for our first team meeting at the airport Hilton. The principals are flying in, and our time is limited.” Her fingers trembled as she sought the opening on a plastic sleeve, then gave up and stuffed loose papers into the binder. “Just try not to screw anything up, Allison. That will be enough of a task, now, won’t it?”

“I’ll do my best to manage.” The smackdown smarted, but it was my own fault for walking in like a little lamb once again, hoping to make friends.

A glance at her watch seemed to heighten her frustration. “Take care of the costuming rooms, and I want to see the loading dock deliveries in order when I return.”

She whooshed past me, leaving me alone to contemplate that last request.
Ohhh-kay. Yes, and while I’m at it, let me realign the earth’s axis, conquer world hunger, and come up with a detailed analysis on that global warming thing too.

“Oh, man,” I muttered as I walked back down the hall to look for Stevie. With Tova gone, the atmosphere in the basement was considerably brighter, but the loading dock was worse than I’d ever seen it, and Stevie was nowhere to be found. A quick junket through the building clued me in to the fact that he’d officially turned in his badge at the theater office and walked out the door an hour ago, muttering expletives. The loading area was a mess for a reason.

“Okay, okay, just chill.” Leaning against a crate tacked together from multicolored recycled wood, I pulled in a breath. “It’s just a job. Think it through a step at a time.” My college counselor’s advice punctuated the dialog in my mind:
Organization and analysis prevents paralysis.

“You can figure this out . . .” On the side of the crate, a set of roughly carved numbers caught my attention:
6-14-55
. I traced a finger across them, a sense of wonder sprinkling over me, washing away the silt of the day.

Grandma Rita had always promised that life was filled with divine appointments, if you looked for them.

June 14, 1955, was my father’s birthday.

For a moment I imagined that this bit of lumber had been salvaged from the old school in nearby Buna, Texas—that my father had carved these numbers himself, probably while his mind was drifting off, spinning a story. Just like mine.

He’d be so happy I was here this summer, even if I was just a small part of a big project. In my mind, he leaned close to my ear and whispered the same thing he had years ago when he’d placed me on a stool behind the camera:
You can
do it, Allie. You can do anything you set your mind to. Never be afraid to try. . . .

The tension ebbed as I sorted, pushed, pulled, and scooted containers into groupings by department, then decided to take some invoices upstairs to the guys with the dollies.

A noise from the other side of the loading area stopped me just as I was rounding the corner. Footsteps. That half of the building was completely unused, yet the steps were undeniable, slow and measured. The kind made by long legs in no hurry. A man’s boots.

That strange sensation slid over me—the one I’d had the first time I walked into the Berman Theater. Heebie-jeebies rattled my shoulders, shaking loose a couple of invoices.
They seesawed gently to the floor, the paper crinkling amid the echo. A sound I understood against one I didn’t. The footsteps seemed to flit off the arched ceilings and come from everywhere. I walked a few paces to the left, and the noise vanished. Then it returned, originating from the vicinity of the costuming rooms. In the opposite direction.

No one could move from one end of the building to the other that quickly. . . .

Gooseflesh prickled, and I wondered about all the people who may have come and gone from this theater in its lifetime. The place had probably been here since the days of speakeasies. What was its history? What things had it seen? What human dramas, both real and imagined, had seeped into these walls?

Were there hidden entrances? Secret passageways?

My mind went wild imagining.

A chill crept up my back. I wished Stevie were here, or Tova. Even ghosts would be afraid of Tova.

Not that I believed in ghosts. I didn’t. At all.

The footsteps changed sides again, returning to the unused corridor, seeming to travel toward an old storage area filled with theater props, gray with dust and draped with lacy spider webs.

I tiptoed closer, stopping near the corridor’s entrance, the invoices clutched to my chest.

“Hello? Is someone down here?”

The walking stopped, but no one answered.

“Can I help you?”

No answer. More noises, behind me this time, in the costuming hallway. I whipped around and looked. No one. A door creaked open, then slammed shut. That was
not
my imagination.

A man murmured, the sound passing overhead like smoke,
seeming real at first, then fading into what could’ve been only pipes groaning.

I had three choices—pursue, ignore, or make a run for the stairwell and the security guy in the box office. If he came down here and didn’t find anything, I’d look like a nut. Word might get back to Tova. She
had
made the point in my initial interview that they weren’t looking for people who were superstitious. No ghost hunters allowed.

And I wasn’t one. I did
not
go in for that kind of thing. Not, not,
not
.

Old buildings do make noises. . . .

A shadow slipped past the doorway. At least I thought I saw something, but no one was there. The footsteps went silent.

The adrenaline of fight or flight surged through my body. One final step, and I slid around the hallway corner. Nothing.

Closing my eyes, I let my head fall back as the air conditioner clicked on overhead, eclipsing any sound.
The ventilation system.
Of course. The building had probably always made these noises. Most of the time, the climate control units were chugging away constantly, but today the temperate weather had caused them to kick off. That could explain why I’d never heard . . .

“Pardon me, ma’am?” The voice struck a reflex point. My hands flew up, I spun around, and invoices went everywhere.

With the lights behind him, all I could see was his outline. Tall, slender, wearing a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, cowboy hat.

Real enough, thank goodness.

The lump of cotton in my throat wouldn’t let me force out a sentence at first. Finally, I managed, “. . . help you?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He was polite at least, which was always a good sign, in terms of unidentified intruders. “I’m looking for the costuming department. Need to drop off some papers
real quick.” He emphasized the words
real quick
and offered up a couple of half-folded sheets. “Where do these go?”

A strange vibe rolled off him as he came closer. Maybe it was the body language or just the fact that the cowboy hat shadowed his face, but he seemed nervous about being there, which made me nervous.

“Are you bringing in a delivery?” He didn’t look like any deliveryman I’d ever seen, and he hadn’t buzzed at the dock door. How had he gotten in?

“Just these papers.”

“What are they for?” I didn’t move closer. My life had just flashed before my eyes, and now all of a sudden, here was this guy, mysteriously able to enter the basement, and not wearing a crew badge? Security wouldn’t even let Kim come down here.

Maybe he was an interloper of some sort, snooping for information. There was a reason for all the confidentiality agreements I’d had to sign for this job—the production company didn’t want curiosity seekers and rubberneckers discovering the location of the reenactment set, which was being constructed, even now, somewhere in the hills of central Texas.

The stranger stepped into the orb of yellow light cast by the sconce overhead, and my thoughts hitched momentarily.

He was a really . . . good-looking . . . cowboy interloper. Kim would’ve loved him. Tanned skin, medium-brown hair neatly trimmed around the ears and collar, hazel eyes that were goldish in the centers, a strong chin with just a hint of a cleft in it. Right now it needed a shave. White cotton shirt, freshly pressed, and his jeans had the long, narrow lines down the front that indicate a man who has his dungarees starched at the cleaners—something I had learned about while working with Grandma Rita. Cowboys take their go-to-meetin’ jeans seriously.

This had to be one of the guys Kim was talking about . . . dreaming about . . . obsessing about. One of the reasons she was dying to spend the next few months in the wilderness. His gaze darted toward the ceiling, then sideways to each wall, as if the place had him spooked too. There was a fine sheen of sweat over his skin, and under the tan, his cheeks were flushed. I hadn’t noticed that at first.

“They told me to bring these down here.” He turned from polite to impatient in the blink of an eye. “Listen, I’ve gotta go.”

I took the papers, looked at them. Nothing more than a couple sheets torn off a yellow pad, wrapped around a postcard. The postcard was from a tuxedo shop, and it had tailoring measurements on it.

Was he here . . . trying to apply for a position in the cast? With two sheets of notepaper and the sizing card from his last tuxedo rental? Maybe he was in the wrong building altogether and thought this was . . . a bridal shop or something? Maybe he was supposed to be in someone’s wedding . . . maybe even his own. Lucky bride. But he had mentioned costuming. “Ummm . . . the main office is upstairs, they can help . . .”

He shook his head, slid his fingers into his pockets, and shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his cowboy boot scuffing along the floor. “Everything’s there. How tall, how wide, all that stuff you people asked for. In case you need more, that card is from one of those wedding rental places. Hasn’t been all that long ago. Information should still be good. That oughta be enough.”

“Enough for what?”

He angled his body toward the stairway door. “Making some kind of clothes, I guess. They told me to bring that thing down here before I left. That’s all I know.” He looked up and down the hall, took a backward step. “What’s the quickest
way out of this place?” His boot heel landed on one of the invoices. He didn’t even seem to notice.

“Hang on a minute. I don’t know anything about this.” If I let some guy walk in here and hand me measurements on a slip of paper, Tova would kill me, and then she’d fire my dead body. She was already beyond irked at the costuming crew, whoever they were, and now I’d have to tell her that her full-time assistant had walked out this morning.

BOOK: Wildwood Creek
5.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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