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Wednesday, May 25, 2011


I arrived at Café Un Deux Trois a moment
before the detectives and their wives. As I took my
seat I spotted them coming in the door and they saw
me at the same time. Both wives waved. For a second
I had been worried that they would not show up; why
I would worry about that is beyond me. In any case, it
was apparent that any fear of departmental scrutiny
was trumped by marital peace and solicitude.
They crossed to me, pausing to speak briefly to
the hostess when she blocked their way. She turned
her head and looked at me. I gave her a nod and stood
to receive my guests.

Everyone’s orders were placed, including a
bottle of Veuve Clicquot, the idea of which – “real
French champagne” -- thrilled the ladies. I did not
want to press the detectives right away, not that either
of them would have been able to get in a word for the
first ten minutes anyway, as Meg and Jill gushed with
enthusiasm for the show, each recounting her favorite
numbers and comparing notes and praising me all the
while. It really began to feel as though I might have a
genuine hit.
The food arrived, the women having ordered
mussels in white wine with pommes frites, to share.
Other than soup, the mussels are one of the least
expensive items on the menu and I wondered if the husbands had laid down the law, so to speak, during the few steps between the theater and the café.
In answer to my unspoken question, Gallagher said, “We appreciate the invitation but we’ll pay for our wives’ food. No offense, sir.”
“The mussels are delicious, hon,” said Meg.
“Yeah, try some,” added Jill, offering Swiecki a mussel on a tiny fork, which he gulped.
“Well, as anyone can tell you, the only drink I ever order is Veuve Clicquot champagne. So I refuse to allow you to share the cost of that.”
I already noticed that neither of the men had touched their glasses.
“That’s up to you, Mr. Windham,” said Swiecki.
“Fine. I notice you two aren’t drinking. Am I to assume you’re on duty?”
“Kind of hard not to be, talking to you and being as the show is linked to our investigation.”
“Should I call my attorney and have him join us then? If he’s in the middle of a hot date it’s going to cost me.”

“Nah. It’s not like that. You’re not a suspect. We could have a drink, I suppose. What do you think, Jack? I mean, it is our night off.”
“We could keep it unofficial, yeah.”
They both reached for the stems of their glasses at the same time.
“Unofficially then -- how is the investigation going, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Sure it’s all right you ask,” said Swiecki. “I wish we had something to tell you. Right now we’ve reached a dead end. Despite all the talk on the street and your offer of a reward, nobody’s come forward with a reliable tip. We’re starting to think it was some lone junkie who panicked after he stabbed the vic and fled. I’m sorry. I should have said stabbed your director.”
“Perfectly understandable.”
I waved away any idea that offense might have been taken.
“For all we know the guy could be in custody for some chump change offense, now that a few days have elapsed. Whatever it is, nobody’s got anything for us, and usually the temptation of ten thousand gets us some kind of lead. I figured with a hundred thousand, we would have informants lining up. That didn’t happen. If it was a junkie did it, for that kind of money he might turn himself in if he comes up short and gets squirrely for dope.”
Gallagher grunted at that assessment. Swiecki continued.
“I wish we had more to tell you, Mr. Windham. Believe me, seeing the show tonight brought it home to me that Mr. Limm was a real artist. We do our best on any case, but bringing wholesome entertainment like your show into a world full of crap, it makes me want to catch the killer all the more.”
The women were now silent.
“Yeah. Me too,” said Gallagher.
“It makes it feel personal even though we never met the man. He obviously had something to offer the world. We’ll do everything we can, of course, but right now it’s feeling like we need some serious luck,” said Swiecki.
I realized the statement was a form of apology.
“You have to understand, Mr. Windham, here in Manhattan there’s not a lot of random violence like there used to be. Out where we are, it’s a different story. With the economy like it is, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
A pall was settling on the table.
“Look, detectives, I’m sure you’re doing your best, and that’s all anyone can expect. It’s all anyone can do, right? Danny did his best directing this show and I can tell you with absolute certainty that he would not want us sitting around with long faces right after seeing his masterwork. So let’s talk about something else, shall we?”
“Okay,” said Swiecki.
“All right by me,” said Gallagher.
They both sounded relieved to be let off the hook and I realized that they had been put on the spot in front of their wives, in addition to any other weight bearing angles that came into play as a result of my presence.
“I have to thank you again for the show. It was so wonderful,” said Jill.
“But you paid for your tickets,” I said.
“That’s not what I mean. It’s real artistry to put something like that together, all the elements – music, dance, singing, the lights and the sets . . .”
“The Times Square set is amazing,” said Meg.
“Yeah. Really. It’s like you’re some kind of magician.”
“Thank you, ladies. It’s very kind of you to say so. Theater producers don’t often get recognized for their efforts anymore. In my case, it runs in the family. I’m a fourth generation producer. My great grandfather was David Belasco’s silent partner in the 1890s and early 1900s.”
“You mean the Belasco Theater Belasco? Is that who it was named after? Your great grandfather’s partner?” asked Megan.
“That’s right. And my grandfather was the original producer of Pretty Baby in the 1930s. How’s that for a connection?”
“No wonder you did such a fabulous job. Showbiz is really in your blood,” said Jill. “Wow. My girlfriends won’t believe this. French champagne and French fries in a French restaurant with the producer of a Broadway hit.”
“We hope it’s a hit,” I said.
“It will be,” said Meg Gallagher. “This is the kind of show makes you proud to be a native New Yorker.”
She turned to Jill for confirmation.
“Right? There’s just something about it.”
“Absolutely. It’s special.”
“Well, we’ll know if it’s a real hit if it resurrects David Belasco’s ghost,” I said.
“Ghost?” both women repeated.
“The theater is haunted, though no one has seen any evidence of it in a long time. Some say it’s due to the ghost being bored by the shows, though I can’t imagine he was bored by Passing Strange.”
“Was that recent?” asked Jill.
“It had a short run a couple years ago. It was a big hit downtown but never found its audience up here. Too bad. It was a very high energy work, very cutting edge.”
“Tell us more about the ghost,” said Meg.
“Yes. Please,” said Jill, sounding like a child wanting a story at bed time.
Over the next ten minutes I enthralled the women with stories of the haunting I did over the years, without revealing of course that I am the ghost of David Belasco. The detectives were skeptical, if I am any judge of body language, smirks and grunts. The women, I knew, would be spreading the word in the outer boroughs. I made a mental note to check in with my ad agency on the progress of our “East of Broadway Curse” advertising supplement. I hoped that no one had scuttled it of their own volition.