Cassandra's Last Spotlight


Needless to say, the residents of Curtain Call got a little worked up by the excitement, and now the staff had a multidimensional problem on its hands.

* * * *

"Where is this son who supposedly visited her today and left abruptly?" The question was posed by David Burch, who was the deputy sheriff who had been assigned to this part of the county, and who Charlotte had gone off to Evonne Clagett's office to call as soon as it was ascertained that Cassandra Carlisle couldn't be located in the main buildings at Curtain Call.

Evonne and Geneva were contending with the restless residents, and Don Dunkel and Billy Zirkel had plunged off into the darkness to search the grounds. Handing Rocket's leash to Evonne and saying, "Could you take charge of Rocket, Evonne? We don't want more than one dog missing tonight," Brenda had put on her coat and gone out into the night to help in the search of the grounds.

"The son isn't here. He left earlier," Evonne answered.

"Are you sure? I hear he's been charged with trying to kill his mother. You sure he left?"

"No, not positive. But that's just one of the residents, Karl Dickson, who's claiming that. And he's a former movie script writer, you know." Evonne said it like that should clear up why Karl was pressing a fantastic, screamy story, but David didn't quite catch onto the logic.

Don, Billy, and Brenda were coming back from the grounds, empty handed and remarking that they couldn't check the outbuildings because they were all locked. Just then Charlotte returned as well from checking out the main building. She was clanking a ring of keys.

"I've got the master keys. I'll check all of the other buildings in the complex," she said as she walked up. "Has anyone noticed that it's snowing now?"

"Pretty hard, yes," Don Dunkel answered. "We were just out there. And it's getting colder."

"We need to broaden the search," Deputy Burch said. "And fast, if we can. It's not just the cold and the snow. We're on a peninsula here—water on two sides and a marsh on a third. She could be—"

"I'll go check those outbuildings," Charlotte said.

"And I'll start calling those in town," Brenda chimed in, as she stripped off her coat again. "She could have made it outside the complex. With all the coming and going tonight, we didn't lock the gates at sunset."

"Billy and I will go door to door," Don Dunkel said.

Within minutes, the whole town was out. It was December 23rd, cold and snowing, and many were starting their Christmas cheer early. But everyone in town was out together, looking for the lost woman from Curtain Call. Even Bonny Levitt was being trundled up and down the village's few streets in her wheelchair by her nemesis, Hannah Helgerson, and using a megaphone to, as she said "wake the dead," which Hannah was quick to point out was in bad taste under the circumstances. This had only served to make Bonny cackle.

Evonne called her husband, Kevin, at their farm on the outskirts of the town, and he pulled in other farmers from farther out.

Walt Miller was standing outside the main entrance to the retirement home, handing out flashlights and warm hunters' jackets from his hardware store for any who needed them. And his wife, Mary, had brought her beauticians into the home to help the staff keep the women residents calm by giving impromptu service and tips in the in-house salon Mary had at Curtain Call.

The Vales at the Bed and Breakfast across from Brenda and Charlotte's house had a pair of newlyweds and two families as guests. The families were lodging there to visit one of the residents of Curtain Call for Christmas. Joyce Vale provided thermoses of coffee and hot chocolate, and all of her guests were out on the street, helping in the search and singing Christmas carols to ward off their fears of what might be found.

Brenda was preparing to bundle up and go out again when Charlotte returned from a fruitless search of the outlying buildings on the grounds of Curtain Call.

"Shall we go out together?" she asked Charlotte. "I think I want to face this together."

"Where's Rocket?" Charlotte asked.

"I turned him over to Evonne. I didn't want him to be lost in the chaos too. Shall we—?"

"The three of us, yes," Charlotte said. "We're forgetting the best detective we have in this circumstance."

When Rocket was brought forward, Charlotte leaned down and said, "We need to find Sam, Rocket. Find Sam."

Brenda gave a tinkling little laugh. "Rocket can't—"

"Want to bet?" Charlotte asked.

The three of them, Brenda and Charlotte, with Rocket, straining at the leash, found Cassandra Carlisle sitting in a pew in the darkened Episcopal church. They could hear her chanting the lines from her Christmas program role over and over again as they entered the church. Sam was sitting, huddled up beside her on the pew, to give her warmth. Rocket went straight to Sam and began to wash his matey's face with his tongue.

Cassandra, completely unperturbed, gave Brenda and Charlotte the most radiant smile when they came up to the pew. Brenda sat down beside her, took her hand, and recited the lines from the program with her.

As all of the searchers were notified that she had been found, they were invited back to Curtain Call, where Evonne's kitchen staff hauled out the refreshments being prepared for the reception after the program the next day and they all stood around—or wheeled around in their chairs—laughing and sharing the joy of a successful search, rest home residents mixing in with thawing-out townspeople.

"Aren't these the refreshments for tomorrow?" Geneva Tindle asked as she sidled up to Evonne Clagett.

"We can prepare more tomorrow," Evonne answered. "These are doing the trick. Doesn't Dr. Dunkel look happy? He's getting the townspeople and residents mingling and comfortable with each other, just as he wished. I'll bet his sermon Sunday morning will say this was our Christmas present this year—a present for all of us. Cassandra would be delighted at being front stage, if the poor dear had any idea what she has done."

* * * *

Every bit the stage trooper Geneva had said she'd be, Cassandra Carlisle was lucid and radiant for her moments in the spotlight during the Christmas Eve program. She had come up to the stage from the first row of the audience, where she'd been sitting with her son, Harold; his wife, Annette; and their two children. Years later whenever they thought back to the best Christmas gifts they'd gotten in past years, they all invariably included enjoying Christmas Eve with a lucid and radiantly happy Grandmother Cassie for her last stage role before she sank into dementia.

The room was packed to the gills. All of the residents were there, and sitting among them were all of the townspeople as well. Even the farmers from outlying areas who had come for the search—and Deputy Burch as well—were there to listen to some of the premier actors from years bygone singing carols and reciting classic lines from the Christmas story.

When Cassandra rang out on the line, "For there was no room in the Inn," Karl Dickson's head snapped up from where his wheelchair was positioned in the third row, and he gave a little snort. Those around him gave him a sharp look when they thought they heard him mutter a, "Well, shit."

Moments later Cassandra boomed out the line, "The son of God fled into Egypt, and the slaughter of the children by Herod began," and Karl boomed out in an equally loud voice, "Shit, yes," and began to cough and laugh. He had to be wheeled out of the room, still hooting and laughing.

He wasn't laughing at Cassandra or at the thought of King Herod having all those children killed. He was laughing at himself. In hearing that line from her, he realized that that was what, in her confusion, she had been saying to her son on the day her son had visited her in the dayroom. He had mistaken "Harold" for "Herod" and King Herod's slaughter of all new-born sons in Bethlehem after the holy family had fled to Egypt as some sort of threat against Cassandra by her son, sneaking into the country from the Middle East. Cassandra, when she was confused, had just been hanging onto the lines of her last performance for dear life.

At the back of the room, Brenda laid her head on Charlotte's shoulder. Sam was nuzzled up against Charlotte's legs and Rocket against Brenda's.

"Now this is Christmas," Brenda murmured.

Charlotte smiled. No one could deliver a line better than Brenda could—or get right to the truth as she could.

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