Delphine was waiting for me in the corridor after my first training class the next morning. She took me by the elbow, steering me to a small alcove away from the other apprentices. “I need your help,” she said in a low voice.
I swallowed my smile and pick up her wrist, holding my fingers to it as if I were checking her pulse. When I went to feel her forehead, she swatted me away.
“Are you mad? Stop it.”
“You just asked me for help—I figured you must be feverish.”
She gave me a look of disgust. “Of all the apprentices in the world, I’m stuck with you.”
“Aren’t you lucky?” I said cheerfully.
“Just shut up.” She put a hand in her bag, feeling around for something.
“You’re out of sorts this morning.”
“Only because I am talking to you.”
“Ooh, you wound me, sweet Delphine.” I put my hand over my heart. “And here I thought we were finally learning to love each other.”
She fished a folded notepaper out of her bag. “I’m glad all this is so amusing to you. I supposed when I’m dangling at the end of the Peacock’s rope, you’ll really laugh then.”
“Don’t be so melodramatic. Didn’t they teach you about over-acting?”
She held out the note to me. “Just read this.”
I unfolded the paper and squinted at the unfamiliar handwriting. “Dear Miss Birdwell, we regret to inform you that your debt is now three months overdue. You have two weeks from receiving this letter to bring the entire amount owed to your loan officer or we will have no choice but to expose certain truths to the Theatrical Guild and several interested journalists. Usually, we do not allow so much additional time for our clients to pay us, but your age and circumstances have moved us to take this generous step. But be warned, at the end of two weeks from now, you must make full payment or face the consequences outlined above.”
The letter wasn’t signed. I looked up at Delphine’s worried eyes.
“Hell, Delphine. What did you do?”
“I merely took out a loan,” she said, tilting her nose in the air. But I could tell it was just bravado. She was really scared.
“A loan from who? The mafia?” I handed back the letter.
“It’s none of your business, I’m sure.”
The amount she named made me gasp. It was more than an apprentice received in allowance in five years.
“Damn. You really know how to land yourself in trouble.”
“Stow it. I didn’t come to you for an opinion.”
“Well, I hope you’re not asking for money. None of us have that much.”
“Of course not. Why do you think I took the job at the Coggled Noggin?”
Oh dear. She’d been doing that for three years. If this was how much she still owed, she must have borrowed a small fortune to start with.
“So what do you need from me?”
“I won’t have money from the investigators for helping catch the Peacock until after it’s over.” She didn’t add and if I survive, but I saw it in her eyes. “And that’s too late. I don’t have any choice but to continue performing at the Noggin.”
“I thought you quit.”
“I did, but they’ll take me back. Their audience loves me.” She spoke with a careless pride, as if she took it for granted that she was adored.
“So what do you need me for?”
“I need you to tell Dietrich that you need to move rehearsal earlier in the day.”
I hooted mockingly. “Why me? I’m not the one being chased by a loan shark.”
“I already bailed from rehearsal a couple days ago. I don’t want him wondering what’s going on.”
“Just tell him.”
“No! I’d get kicked out of the program for sure.”
She was such a cog-brain. “Look, you’re putting your life on the line for our star actress. You really think anyone is going to kick you out after that?”
She gave me a level look. “You and Dietrich aren’t the only ones who can read between the lines. The Guild doesn’t give a monkey’s arse about what happens to me, and we all know it.”
I couldn’t argue with that. “Dietrich wouldn’t turn you in, you know.”
“No, I don’t know. He’s a Guild member.”
“So is Nadine, but you trusted her.”
“That’s different.” She grabbed my arm. “Please, Minx. Just ask Dietrich to move rehearsal earlier. I’ve already sent word to the Noggin that I’ll be there. I have to do this.”
There was a wild urgency in her eyes, a sort of desperation that not even my hatred of her could ignore. I didn’t know what sort of trouble she was in, but it wouldn’t have been right to refuse to help her.
“All right. Fine. I’ll ask. But I’m going with you.”
She dropped her hand and stepped back, looking offended. “I don’t need you.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Of course not.” I mimicked her, “Please, Minx! I have to do this! I beg you!” Then, in my own voice, “No, you don’t need me at all.”
“Why do you want to come?”
“For safe-keeping. If you disappear, who’s going to be Peacock bait for us? Someone’s got to watch out for you until then.” My tone was sarcastic, but I actually meant it, and not just because of the Peacock. If she disappeared, I didn’t want it on my conscience that I stood by and did nothing.
She scowled. “Your concern for my well-being is touching. Truly.”
“Yes, I’m just soft-hearted that way. Can’t help it.”
“Back at you, sweetheart.”
“Fine. If you can get rehearsal rescheduled, you can come. Be at the storage room at eight tonight.”
I saluted her. “Aye, aye, Captain.”
She looked at the ceiling and shook her head and walked away.
I hurried the opposite direction in search of Dietrich, hoping my teacher for Symbolism Theory of Theatrical Design wouldn’t be too angry at my absence.
Uh-oh, Delphine! What did she get herself into??? And don't you think Minx is enjoying it a bit much? :-)
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