Nancy Means Wright
May 7th 2013
When puppeteer Fay finds a friend dead of poisoned yew and her sister hanging from a rod like a marionette, she races after the killer.
When puppeteer Marion collapses during a performance of Sleeping Beauty, her friend Fay Hubbard promises to carry on. But Fay already has her hands full with three demanding foster children, Apple and Beets, who have a fractious jailbird father—and sixteen-year-old Chance, who has a crush on a much older guy in a band called Ghouls. And now Marion’s husband Cedric seems more interested in a drop-dead-gorgeous French teacher than in any string puppets. And who is the mysterious Skull-man who warns of death if the show goes on with one of Marion’s offbeat endings? When an autopsy reveals that Marion had swallowed a dose of deadly crushed yew—and a friend finds her sister dangling from a rod like a marionette, a shocked Fay goes after the killer.
The puppeteers, in black masks and stretch leotards that threw Fay Hubbard’s belly into mortifying relief, were lined up behind their marionettes. They stood in plain sight, as if to say that this was a play, not reality at all, and that the children who were squatting, wide-eyed, on the floor of the Branbury Village School needn’t worry when the bad fairy came in to prick young Beauty and put her to sleep for a hundred years. It was all artifice.
Why then was Fay feeling anxious – when, good heavens, she’d been in forty-odd plays in her checkered past? Usually after a few unnerving moments when she first walked out on the stage, she’d get over the shakes and roll forward into the heart of the drama. Offstage for a scene, she’d be raring to go back on; and when the curtain dropped at the end she could hardly wait for the curtain call, to drink in the applause of the crowd like caramel cream.
But this play had been going for ten minutes already, and Fay knew what would happen in the end. Beauty would be awakened by the handsome Prince, yes. But puppeteer Marion had written a new ending for the classic Sleeping Beauty tale and it wasn’t a happy one. It was sad; in fact, it dredged up all of Fay’s anxieties about dying. She wasn’t alone in her peeve with the ending – two people had stood up and booed after the Burlington performance, and one had actually threatened Marion.
Could she blame them? Fay was a romantic – never mind she was visibly aging, a wrinkle a day. Give her a happy ending any time. Bring on the prince! So what if he reeked of tobacco and garlic?
“Bar the door!” cried the puppet Queen with a flourish of strings and pink satin arms. “The witch is here!” And Fay, as the good fairy who’d come to bless the baby Beauty, shoved a papier mâché rock against the door. Or shoved it almost to the door, for Fay wasn’t wholly competent at pulling strings. Neither literally nor metaphorically skilled, she thought, for she seldom prevailed with anyone – ex-husband, play directors, the cop who’d nailed her for speeding this morning. Even the three foster kids she cared for – one of whom, the oldest, Chance, was operating a fairy and wanting out of here. The girl was already checking her watch.
Nancy Means Wright has published 17 books, including 6 contemporary mysteries from St Martin’s Press and two historical novels featuring 18th-century Mary Wollstonecraft (Perseverance Press). Her two most recent books are the mystery Broken Strings (GMTA publishing) and Walking into the Wild, an historical novel for tweens (LLDreamspell). Her children’s mysteries have received an Agatha Award and Agatha nomination. Nancy lives in Middlebury with her spouse and two Maine Coon cats.
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