Her skin was as pale as a moonbeam and her hair as black as the deepest part of the night where no such moon could shine. She stood removed from the crowds, her eyes demurely averted, never making eye contact with the theatregoers, but Billy could not tear his gaze from her.
Beautiful ladies might sometimes stand outside theatres, some even alone as this one was, but it was not her beauty that fascinated Billy. He was eight, and not yet sure why women were beautiful. The first thing that struck him as strange about this woman was the great black wings of shining feathers sprouting from her back. You don’t see that every day. The other thing he found strange, no one else was paying the winged lady in black a blind bit of notice. Did her marvelous show costume not impress them? Adults were often beyond his comprehension. They missed the most interesting things because they were always so busy looking in another direction.
His Granma’s wheezing cough averted his attention. He turned to offer her his clean handkerchief. Taking it, she smiled at his good manners, and they walked on into the theatre. Twisting his head to glance back, Billy saw that the lady in black was gone.
Jimmy Ducks paced upon the gangway with heavy and impatient strides. The stalls below him filled with expectant whispers, the cool air from the open door pushing the scents of popcorn and ladies perfume upwards to mingle with the dry tickle of dust and rigging grease. All of those whispering termites were against him. Muttering to one another of his disgrace.
“I heard he was drunk.”
“Let the rigging fall.”
“Nearly killed the poor girl.”
“Such a disgrace.”
“Never was any good.”
He could almost hear them saying it down there, but they would be sorry soon enough. People would stop laughing at Jimmy Ducks soon enough.
The orchestra stuck up a lively tune as 14 Japanese dancers in flowing gowns filled the stage. A dazzling display of beautiful colours and twirling ribbons. They spun across the boards with precision and grace, filling every available space but never colliding. Where one ribbon ended, another lady began. Billy sat back on his balcony. The dancing was ok, but he was waiting for the samurai battle, but that wasn’t until act three.
His eyes wandered and found the lady in black. She occupied the balcony opposite. Half hidden by shadows, she looked at the floor and not at the stage, waiting for her moment.
Billy wondered what part she would play.
Harker climbed up to the gangway. Man, he hated these stupid things, hated heights too, but they were short-handed, and he was the one walking by at the wrong moment. Didn’t matter that he was doing his own job, it could wait, they said. Scurrying up the last few steps, Harker was surprised to come face to face with a drunken Jimmy Ducks and his loaded 9mm.
“Don’t move Harker. I didn’t come here to be shooting you.”
Hands raised in instant submission, Harker hoped he looked compliant and not moving. “I ain’t lookin’ for no fight, Jimmy. Just come up fixin’ lights.” Jimmy nodded his acceptance but did not lower the gun. “Outta curiosity though pal, who did you come up here to shoot?”
Jimmy appraised him for a second or two, then leaned forward with a conspirators whisper, “Them!”
Taking the cue, Harker leaned in closer to Jimmy and whispered back “Who’s ‘them’?”
“They all think they’re better than old Jimmy,” he patted his chest with his gun hand, causing Harker to wince. “I’m going to show them, all those whispering maggots down there,” he made a sweeping arc with the gun to encompass the packed stalls and stage below. Harker took a breath, prayed, and grabbed the gun.
The shot was deafening.
The theatre fell eerily silent in the moment after the loud bang, the last notes of the orchestra dwindled away into the hush like a last plaintive cry. In the brief silence before the murmuring began to rise from the crowd, Billy heard the soft grunting of struggle that drew his eyes high above the balcony to the eves of the theatre where he found the two men fighting on the platform.
A second shot rang out, the dome of the theatre amplifying the sound so that it echoed down on the theatre-goers like a physical blow. The bullet went wild, across the stage, and part of the scenery fell away. The murmurs grew in a slight fever as they too began to look for the source of the shots, some dancers fleeing from the stage, others rooted to the spot in confusion.
The two men fought on, oblivious.
Billy scanned to the balcony belonging to the lady in black. Was she watching now? She was not. She was gone.
The third shot struck a member of the audience in the stalls. Terrified screams now filled the echoic room as those around the fallen man moved away in droves. The stage emptied, dancers no longer caring from where or why the shots were coming.
The wounded man in the stalls bellowed with such ferocity that he could not be mistaken for dead. His cries were pain filled and easy to pick out over the higher pitched wails of terror. The aisles were full of finery. Silk, wool and lace, all crushing together like an exotic stampede to escape this room of death.
Billy felt a hand on his shoulder, the sensation pulled him into the moment, and he knew that he and his Granma must get away from this madness, but the hand was not his Granma, it belonged to the lady in black. Cool blue eyes shone from her pale face as stark a contrast as seeing the moon in the bright light of day. She looked down at him and smiled.
Billy heard the final shot and scream of fear. The man with the gun was falling. The man he had fought leaned far over the railing, sweat glistened on his face, arms reaching down to the fallen man as though he may be able to save him still. The gunman was lifeless below, no amount of wishing or longing could undo that now.
A wail cut through the air, above all fear and pain. Grief makes its animalistic sound, refusing to be mistaken for anything but what it is, even to the ears of a boy who has never heard such sorrow before. The lady in black still looked at him. Not the fallen him over whom his Granma keened sorrowfully, but the one who now looked on.
“Time to get out of here Billy,” she said and held out her hand.
“What about Granma?”
“I can’t help her right now, that is a job for the living.”
“Well, what about him?” Billy gestured to the fallen gunman, “shouldn’t you take him too?”
“He isn’t allowed where you go. Something else will come for him.”
Billy took her hand. It was warm despite her pale skin. “Where are we going?”
“Somewhere nice,” she replied.