No neon here, she thought, smiling. They were far from Broadway.
She’d read that the Gilded Lily had hosted many fine performers over the years. The theater had been established at a time when someone had longed to bring a little eastern “class” to the rugged West; naturally, the results had been somewhat mixed.
As she stood on the street looking up at the edifice, a man came flying out the latticed doors. Tall and square as a wrestler, clean-shaven and bald with dark eyes and white-winged brows, he bustled with energy. “Jane? Jane Everett? From the FBI?”
“Yes, I am. Hello.”
“Welcome to Lily, Arizona,” he said enthusiastically. “I’m Henri Coque, artistic director of the theater for about a year now and, I might add, director of the current production, The Perils of Poor Little Paulina. We’re delighted to have you here.”
“I’m delighted to be here,” she responded. “It’s a beautiful place. Who wouldn’t want to come to a charming, Western, almost ghost town?”
He laughed at that. “I’m glad to hear that, especially since I’m the mayor here, as well as the artistic director. Lily itself is small. Let me get your bag, and I’ll show you around the theater and take you to your room. I hope you’re all right with staying here. Someone suggested one of the chain hotels up the highway, but everyone else thought you’d enjoy the Gilded Lily more.”
“I’m happy to be here,” Jane assured him. “I can stay at a chain hotel anywhere.”
She was happy. They’d been between cases when Logan had heard from an old friend of his—a Texas cop, now an Arizona sheriff—that a skull had appeared mysteriously in the storage cellar of a historic theater. It had sounded fascinating to her and she’d agreed to come out here. The local coroner’s office had deemed the skull to be over a hundred years old and had determined that handing it over to the FBI was justified, so that perhaps the deceased could be identified and given a proper burial. Like most law enforcement agencies, the police here were busy with current cases that demanded answers for the living.
The skull, she knew, was no longer at the theater. She would work at the new sheriff’s office on the highway, but she was intrigued by the opportunity to spend time at the historic theater, learn the history of it and, of course, see where the skull was found.
That was the confusion—and the mystery. No one remembered seeing the skull wearing the wig before. Granted, the theater had been holding shows forever; it had never closed down. And people had been using the various wigs down there forever, too. From her briefing notes, Jane knew that everyone working at the theater and involved with it had denied ever seeing the skull, with or without a wig. It seemed obvious that someone had been playing a prank, but Jane wasn’t sure how identifying the person behind the skull—given that he or she had been dead over a hundred years—would help discover who’d put it on the rack.
The sheriff, Sloan Trent, had wanted to send the skull off to the Smithsonian or the FBI lab, but the mayor had insisted it should stay in Lily until an identification had been made. So, Sloan had requested help from his old friend, Logan Raintree, head of Jane’s Texas Krewe unit of the FBI teams of paranormal investigators known as the Krewe of Hunters. And that had led to Logan’s asking Jane, whose specialty was forensic art, to come here. The medical examiner who’d seen the skull believed it was the skull of a woman and he had estimated that she’d been dead for a hundred to a hundred and fifty years.
“Come, Ms.—or, I guess it’s Agent—Everett!” Henri said, pushing open the slatted doors and escorting her into the Gilded Lily. “Jennie! Come meet our forensic artist!”
Jane tried to take in the room while a slender woman wearing a flowered cotton dress came out from behind the long bar behind some tables to the left. The Gilded Lily, she quickly saw, was the real deal. She felt as if she’d stepped back in time. Of course, her first case with her Krewe—the second of three units—had been in her own hometown of San Antonio and had actually centered on an old saloon. But the Gilded Lily was a theater and a saloon or bar, and like nothing she’d ever seen before. The front tables were ready for poker players, with period furniture that was painstakingly rehabbed. To the right of the entry, an open pathway led to the theater. Rich red velvet drapes, separating the bar area from the stage and audience section, were drawn back with golden cords. The theater chairs weren’t what she would’ve expected. The original owners had aimed for an East Coast ambience, so they, too, were covered in red velvet. The stage, beyond the audience chairs, was broad and deep, allowing for large casts and complicated sets. She saw what appeared to be a real stagecoach on stage right and, over on stage left, reaching from the apron back stage rear, were railroad tracks.
The woman who’d been behind the bar came around to the entry, smiling as she greeted Jane. She thrust out her a hand and there was steel in her grip. “I’m Jennie Layton, stage mother.”
“Stage mother?” Jane asked, smiling.
Jennie laughed. “Stage manager. But they call me stage mother—with affection, I hope. I take care of our actors...and just about everything else!” she said.
“Oh, come now! I do my share of the work,” Henri protested.
Jennie smiled. “At night, we have three bartenders, four servers and a barback. And we have housekeepers who come in, too, but as far as full-time employees go, well, it’s Henri and me. And we’re delighted you agreed to stay here.”
“I thought the theater history might help you in identifying the woman,” Henri said.
“Thank you. That makes sense. And it’s beautiful and unique.”
“Lily is unique! And the Gilded Lily is the jewel in her crown,” Henri said proudly.
“Well, come on up. We have you in the Sage McCormick suite,” Jennie told her, beaming.
The name was familiar to Jane from her reading. “Sage McCormick was an actress in the late 1800s, right?”
“All our rooms are now named for famous actors or actresses who came out West to play at the Gilded Lily,” Henri said. “Sage, yes—she was one of the finest. She was in Antigone and Macbeth and starred in a few other plays out here. She was involved in a wonderful and lascivious scandal, too—absolutely a divine woman.” He seemed delighted with the shocking behavior of the Gilded Lily’s old star. “I’ll get your bag.”
“Oh, I’m fine,” Jane said, but Henri had grabbed it already.
“Tut, tut,” he said. “You may be a very capable agent, Ms. Everett, but here in Lily...a gent is a gent!”
“Well, thank you, then,” Jane said.
Jennie showed the way up the curving staircase. The landing led to a balcony in a horseshoe shape. Jane looked down at the bar over a carved wooden railing, then followed Jennie to the room at the far end of the horseshoe. This room probably afforded the most privacy, as there was only one neighbor.
“The Sage McCormick suite,” Jennie said, opening the door with a flourish.
It was a charming room. The bed was covered with a quilt—flowers on white—and the drapes were a filmy white with a crimson underlay.
“Those doors are for your outdoor balcony. It overlooks the side street but also gives you a view of the main street, although obstructed, I admit,” Jennie said.
“And the dressing room through here...” Henri entered with her bag, throwing open a door at the rear of the spacious room. “It’s still a dressing room, with a lovely new bath. Nothing was really undone. The first bathrooms were put in during the 1910s. We’ve just updated. And, you’ll note, this one retains a dressing table and these old wooden armoires. Aren’t they gorgeous?”
They were. The matching armoires were oak, with the symbols of comedy and tragedy