Today's Reading

He beamed, then said, "This way, ladies, this way, if you please." He started to take Inez by the arm.

She avoided what she deemed a familiarity by deploying her fan with a twist of the wrist while turning to Antonia and saying, "Be on your best behavior, Antonia. It is a great honor to see behind the scenes of the Grand Opera House and to meet Mrs. Carrington Drake. She has come all the way from Philadelphia to sing here in San Francisco."

"That's right," enthused Thackery, who bowed them out of the box and led them to an elegant curved staircase. "The Golden Songbird has returned to the city where her voice first took flight and charmed the masses. Not here at the Grand, of course, as we only opened seven years ago, in seventy-four. I recall seeing her ten or more years ago, at the Melpomene Theater. The Melpomene was well known in its time, but it was never as grand as the Grand is now."

A gentleman, who had been mounting the stairs against the tide of operagoers surging down, stopped before them. Blocking their path, he boomed, "Mr. Thackery!" He ripped the bowler hat from his head, but Inez doubted it was a gesture of respect.

Inez retreated a step, dragging Antonia with her. The man's wild gaze was alarming, and Inez was glad it was not directed at them. All his attention focused on the assistant manager.

Thackery, to his credit, stayed put, and even bristled. "Mr. Teague. It is not necessary to raise your voice."

Two burly ushers at the bottom of the staircase glanced up at the fracas. One started up the staircase, but the other stopped him. They stayed where they were, watching closely.

"Well, if it's the only way I can get someone's attention around here, then I guess it 'is' necessary." Teague ran an ink-stained hand over his longer-than-fashionable unruly hair, which was the same dark-red hue as the beard that threatened to engulf his bow tie.

He pointed at Thackery. "Where's Graham Drake? He must be here. After all, his wife was your star attraction."

"He is not available," huffed Thackery. "If you wish to speak with Mr. Drake, you shall have to do so elsewhere."

"You don't think I've tried that? He's avoiding me. Every place I track him, he's been and gone. Or, he's 'not available.' Thackery, I bought one of your high-priced tickets for tonight's performance and I'm here on legitimate business."

"You are not a theater critic, Mr. Teague. You came as a member of the audience."

Thackery must have made some secret signal, because the two ushers were in motion, making their determined way upward.

Thackery continued, "The performance is over. It's time for you to leave."

The ushers grabbed Teague's arms and roughly hauled him backward. Stumbling, he was half dragged, half hauled down the stairs. In a voice that would have carried easily from the Grand's stage to the back seats, Teague shouted, "You tell Graham Drake he can't hide from me forever. I know who he is, and what he is, and I take it as my professional duty and honor as a member of the fourth estate to tell the world."

As he was thus escorted across the elegant lobby, the departing patrons paused, watching this unexpected epilogue to their evening's entertainment. The women pulled their long elegant skirts aside as if his passing might contaminate their new winter ensembles. The men murmured to each other and eyed Teague with calculation, as if weighing his words upon the scales of rumor and truth. Upon reaching the exit, the ushers unceremoniously thrust him outdoors, and his shouting ceased.

Thackery turned to Inez and Antonia on the steps above. "Well. That sort of excitement was common twenty, thirty years ago in the city, not so much these days."

Inez could see that Antonia was burning with questions. She took the girl's shoulder, a silent admonition, yet couldn't help but ask one question herself. "So, this Mr. Teague. Is he a local newspaperman?"

Thackery looked about, perhaps hoping the question was addressed to someone else. With no likely suspects nearby, he finally said, "Yes, yes, he is. Or perhaps, was? It seems I heard some story or other, but since I cannot say for certain, it is best I not say at all. I can assure you he is not a theater critic, nor a reporter of musical news nor high society. So, let's continue, shall we? To more pleasant things."

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