“A Night at the Opera” – Excerpt from a Short Story Series

“Thank you, dear.” Dr. Varney said as his landlord’s daughter, Clara handed him his daily mail, as she always did on Thursday mornings.

“You’re very welcome, Dr. Varney,” Clara replied, scuttling up the narrow staircase to her family’s apartment. The apartment complex located in downtown London on 7th Street street number 325, was modest, to say the least. But Dr. Varney did not seem to mind. He mostly kept to himself, unless he was on “business,” which was not frequently, nor was it seldom. He was essentially brainpower for hire.

Back to 325 7th Street London, England. The building was owned by Henry Connolly, Clara’s father. He was a kindhearted man with a loving wife and five wonderful children. However, when need be, he could be strict and harsh, especially with his two young boys.

His wife kept the place in working order. She was the housemaid for all of the tenants there, of which there were three; the structure allowed room for eight occupants. Mr. Connolly and his family boarded in one of the three rooms on the top floor. Yeremiah Holly, a Jewish businessman, occupied one of two suites on the ground floor, Frank Gurney had taken the second floor with Dr. Varney as well as Dr. Troy Fielding.

All in all, the living quarters were satisfactory, at least for Dr. Varney.

A knock at the door halted Dr. Varney’s morning paper reading. He acknowledged the visitor and granted the stranger access.

When the man stepped inside, he realized that it was no stranger at all. Not that he was surprised; Scott came most every day.

“Hallo, Doctor,” Scott greeted cheerfully.

“Good morning, Scott. How are you this fine morning?”

“Just fine, Doctor,” Scott replied. “And you?”

“I’m quite chipper,” Dr. Varney returned, grinning.

“Never heard that one before,” Scott laughed, a grin invading his face as well.

“Yes, well. We must keep ourselves on our toes,” Varney stated, chuckling softly.

“Indeed.” Scott nodded. After a short pause, he asked, “Have you found any new cases to work on, dear Doctor?”

“No, not yet,” he replied. “All quite petty stories of lost jewelry and stolen goods; cases too easily solved for my liking.”

“I see.” He cleared his throat. “I suppose then, that you wouldn’t mind accompanying me to the opera tonight, then. Hmm? They’re showing Kings and Queens of Old and I know it’s one of your favorites.”

“I’d be delighted. What time?”

“Tonight at eight.”

“I’ll make arrangements.”

“Very good. I’ll see you there. Where should we-”

“By the veranda.”

“Yes, right. See you then, Doctor.”

“Have a good day, Scott.”

“And you.”

The door slammed shut and once again all was quiet. Dr. Varney sighed. Then he chuckled to himself. The conversations he and Scott had were always very short and to the point. He loved the lad’s responses to everything. He was a very intelligent young boy, but sometimes very awkward to talk to.

It didn’t really bother Dr. Varney though; he knew he was the same way and it was partially his fault. The boy spent too much time with him and had adopted his little quirks.

Dr. Varney shifted his mind back to the daily news and other things that slipped into his mind.

Nine hours later Dr. Varney slipped on his overcoat and out the door of 325 7th Street London, England. He felt like taking a walk through the city streets today, so he had gotten ready a couple hours prior to the opening act of Kings and Queens of Old.

As he strolled down 7th Street and then onto various other lanes and boulevards, Dr. Varney smiled and took in the evening air. It was fresh and inviting to a man who usually sat cooped up in his study.

When he arrived at the opera house, he checked his pocket watch. It read 6:47 P.M. Scott would not arrive for another ten minutes or so. Despite this, he headed to the veranda he had indicated as their meeting place and leaned against the wall.

As he waited, he engaged in one of his favorite hobbies, watching people walk by and trying to see what he could tell about them. At the moment, not many were walking past, but those that did, he could tell some about in the brief moments he observed them.

His short respite was soon interrupted by Scott. He had arrived just one minute before seven P.M. most likely to have a pleasant conversation with his friend, as they usually did when they went to the opera or restaurants, or other such meeting places.

“Hallo, Doctor.” Scott always greeted him in this manner.

“Good evening, Scott.” And Varney acknowledged him so, without fail.

“How went your day?” Scott posed.

“Well . . . although I haven’t done much besides catch up on the news. What about you?

“I ran a few errands for my mum.”

“Good lad!” Varney replied, slapping him heartily on the back.

After a moment’s hesitation, Scott asked, “Should we go and find our seats now, Doctor?”

“Indeed we shall.”

So the duo climbed the steps of the veranda and took their first-class seats, which Scott had so generously paid for. Although he still lived with his mother, he was employed at a well-paying job and had a flexible schedule, allowing him to spend so much time with his acquaintance.

And they talked. Their conversations took many twists and turns and kept them both on their toes. They laughed, they debated, and they had a good time. Both of them loved the inner workings of the casual discussion and how they played out.

When the show finally started, they were almost distraught. But those feelings quickly dissipated. The actors were terrific and the storyline as crisp as ever.

Although Dr. Varney was out for recreation, he was still very alert of his surroundings. He noticed, for example, that there was a large scuff mark on the back of a man’s overcoat in the seats below. He also noticed that there was a large platform on the stage that nobody had yet set foot on.

At intermission, Dr. Varney and Scott resumed their conversation on the new inventions of the era. Often they wandered into obscure topics, but today they seemed in a rational mood.

But soon their enjoyable discussion came to an end when Part II of the opera commenced. So far, the show had proven to be very well directed and the actors were spectacular.

However, Dr. Varney was still curious about the pedestal on the stage that had not been used yet. He was soon to find out.

Queen Elizabeth, one of the characters in the “all-star” cast, was set to rule over all of the other characters in the opera. She pushed all those in her way over and climbed the pedestal.

When she finally stood up, Dr. Varney noticed that she seemed to flinch just a little bit and then move her right foot from the spot she had just been standing on a little bit to the left. She resumed speaking.

After that, he continued to notice that her movements were more deliberate than before; as if it was difficult for her to do move in simple ways.

However, she had no issue with her lines at all. The speech flowed beautifully from her red-stained lips, invigorating the crowd of London citizens with a sense of patriotism. Dr. Varney was also impressed.

Soon the show came to its conclusion. Queen Elizabeth managed to gather all her subjects to herself and now ruled in peace. She had eliminated the competition; in other words, all the kings of Persia and Media, who had formed an alliance against her.

As the final lines echoed throughout the crowd, applause resounded throughout the entire auditorium. It was so loud that Dr. Varney almost failed to hear the relatively quiet crash in the background of the stage. He knew that Queen Elizabeth had been back there and was wondering if something had happened to her.

When the show ended, Scott was sitting leisurely in his chair preparing to resume a casual conversation. But when he saw Dr. Varney rushing toward the exit, he quickly put on a look of alarm.

“What is it, Doctor?” Scott asked concernedly.

“I think that something has happened to the actor who played Queen Elizabeth and I intend to find out what and why,” the doctor replied.

“Are you in need of my assistance?”

“I would be pleased if you could accompany me.”

And so he did. Scott followed Dr. Varney through the wide halls of the opera house to the backstage offices and dressing rooms. When he reached the entrance to the restricted areas, he flashed a badge to the man standing beside the door, who acknowledged them and swiftly flung the door open for them. Varney and Scott gave him a nod in return.

They found the queen’s dressing room at the end of the corridor. There was a large crowd gathered at the entrance and two workers trying to push them back. When they attempted the same with Varney, he told them that he was a doctor. They hurriedly ushered him through the crowd and toward the unconscious actor.

“What happened to her?” Dr. Varney got right to the point.

“We don’t know,” the attendant replied. “She was fine before the show, but now she’s feverish and could barely move when she was awake. She collapsed on stage.”

Thinking back to his early observations, he asked, “May I see her foot?”

The man looked confused, but answered an affirmative. The doctor removed her slipper and began to examine the sole of her small, smooth foot. Moments later, he found what he was looking for: a small puncture wound. He pointed it out to the attendant, who then called for the director and a couple more workers.

When the workers confronted him, he asked for them to show him the pedestal on which the queen had stood. When they brought it out to him, he found a tiny, almost microscopic, needle standing no more than one inch high. Carefully, he removed a sample of residue on the tip of the needle. It consisted of properties similar to that of King Cobra snake venom. If left untreated, and at a high enough potency, it could cause death within days.

The plotter must have had an inside job, Varney realized. Thankfully, that narrowed down the possibility to one of the stage crew or other men and women involved in the production. But how to find him?

The stagehands waited patiently as he pondered a solution. He thought and thought, until he thought he could think no more.

Then he had it. Instead of asking everyone who didn’t like the actress or who had left early, or examining each one’s personal records, he would wait in anticipation for the perpetrator to retrieve the needle. It was small and hard to notice, but eventually it would be found and connected to the injury, or possible death of the actress. No, no. He would come back for it. That much was certain.

And so, the doctor sought Scott and told him of his plans. They would have to go undercover, or else the plot might be discovered. They decided to leave the opera house and wait until all the employees had left. The criminal would believe that the two who threatened his plans had gone home and were no more than simple doctors. That’s when they would slip in and wait for his return.

They quickly set about enacting their scheme. They examined the woman once more and made a false assumption, but still sending her to a hospital for further treatment. Then they left without so much as another word to any of the employees.

So far, their ploy was working. They hid out in an alley across the street waiting for all the candles and lamps to be snuffed out in the dressing rooms and offices, so they could sneak in.

When all the workers had exited the house, they made their way across the street, stealthily. Once they reached the sidewalk on the opposite side, Dr. Varney put his hand to Scott’s chest. Scott looked to where the doctor was pointing. A man in black clothing was heading toward the rear entrance of the opera house.

Varney beckoned to the east side of the building. They turned the corner and Varney vaulted Scott up onto the window ledge. When he found it locked, Varney handed him a set of lock picks. Scott had it undone within minutes. Dr. Varney hoisted himself up to the ledge and they both entered a small, dark room.

Varney lit his pipe lighter and surveyed his surroundings. He was in an annex of the larger prop room. He cracked the door open without it creaking and snuck across the small walkway that connected to a few other small storage rooms and, more importantly, the main prop room.

Dr. Varney motioned for Scott to stay behind as he entered into the room. A slight creak echoed as the doctor took his first steps, but then all was quiet. He hadn’t arrived yet.

After a few minutes of dreadful anticipation, a door on the far side of the room clicked as it was opened. A shadow of a figure appeared in the doorway and then walked around the room, illuminating the objects with a candle along the way.

Soon he found what he sought. The pedestal was against the east wall, not far from where Dr. Varney was concealed by a heavy stage curtain. He watched as the man carefully reached out to retrieve the tiny needle.

Before he could extricate it, Scott appeared behind him and slugged him over the back of his head with a 2×4. The man slumped over and was caught by Dr. Varney, who made sure to extinguish the candle that had fallen to the floor.

Once he had done so, he instructed Scott to go and fetch the constable and tell him what had happened.

When the boy had left, the doctor gently set him down on the floor of the room and inspected the spot of the impact from the slab of wood. There was a nasty bruise already forming, but it would heal. He slipped the needle into his overcoat pocket and suddenly realized that the man was none other than the director, Lorenzo Lafayette.

That shook things up. That a distinguished director would try to murder his own star actress appalled him. But everyone had their reasons, no matter how ridiculous they seemed.

A few minutes later, Scott returned with the constable. He escorted the convict away and left the doctor and his acquaintance to ponder their findings.

“That’s quite peculiar indeed,” Scott commented after Dr. Varney had relayed his observations.

“Yes, very. I shall have to look into this further,” Dr. Varney said, turning toward the door to leave. “Have a good night, Scott.”

“And you, Doctor,” Scott replied.

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