The fat lady was about to sing. Up in the followspot booth, sixty feet over the audience, Bobbyjay Morton aimed his darkened Supertrouper spotlight at her. The music swelled. He heard the stage manager on his headset.
“Warning. Number two spot in color six to pick up Brunnhilde.”
In the same moment, his cell phone vibrated on his hip.
“Spot two go.”
Cursing silently, he powered up the Supertrouper. Bang, he nailed the fat lady with a beam of bright pink light. She wouldn’t move now. This was Wagner.
He checked his phone.
“What is it?” he hissed, stepping away from the window into darkness.
The voice of his father, hilarious with beer, said, “You are not going to believe what we just did!”
“Keep it down, Dad, I’m in the booth at the Opera.”
He heard his grandfather say, “Gimme that phone,” and what sounded like a tussle at the other end. Then his grandfather said, “We’re at the old smelt fishing spot. Get down here.”
“What?” Bobbyjay squeaked. “I’m running the show!”
“Get down here.” His grandfather sounded unusually grim and, what’s more, sober. “I mean it.”
“I’ll get fined! They’ll fire my ass!”
“No, they won’t.” Bobby Senior was the oldest and most powerful Bobby Morton in the stagehands union Local. “Well, they’ll fine you, but they won’t fire you. Come now.” The phone went dead.
That meant that whatever was happening at the lakefront would get Bobbyjay in much more trouble than walking off the job in the middle of a performance of Götterdämmerung. He touched the shoulder of the number one spot operator.
“Yo, Mikey Ray. I got a crisis. Can you cover for me for a few minutes?” Mikey Ray looked up. Bobbyjay added honestly, “Maybe the rest of the show?”
“You can’t do that. They’ll shitcan you,” Mikey Ray hissed. Comprehension crossed his face. “Those idiots can’t do this to you. Tell ’em no.”
Bobbyjay tried to looked wooden. “It’s not that. I just have to go.”
“Bullshit.” Mikey Ray snorted. “I’ll cover as long as I can. Maybe somebody on the deck can come up for two-spot cues.”
Bobbyjay thumped him gratefully. “Thanks, buddy. I owe you.”
“You sure as hell do. I think Scooby’s loose on deck. He won’t rat you out. I’ll buzz him.”
“You’re a pal.” Bobbyjay manned his ’trouper and, at a nod from Mikey Ray, the two of them crossfaded, his beam of pink light disappearing as Mikey Ray’s number one spot appeared, nailing the same mezzosoprano with the same color from a slightly different angle. “I owe you,” Bobbyjay said again.
“Get outa here.”
He wavered a moment, listening to the mezzo, then sneaked quickly down the long flights of stairs to the back door.
He didn’t worry about what he would find at the lakefront. Long experience had taught him that his family was capable of anything. He gunned the Jeep up Lake Shore Drive, swung off into Lincoln Park, and screeched to a stop in the parking lot next to a gathering of rowdy drunks under a streetlight.
“’Sup, Pop?” The words died on Bobbyjay’s lips.
His father, his uncle Rob, and his two cousins stood gloating around a car, taking pictures with their phones. Half a dozen plastic pails lay tumbled on the wet asphalt beside them.
“Get a shot from over here,” they kept saying to each other.
His grandfather stood slightly apart, arms folded, scowling.
The car was a familiar-looking silver Porsche Targa. It looked sleek and dangerous under the orange mercury-vapor streetlight, but something was wrong.
It was full of fish.
Bobbyjay stepped closer.
Little silver fish pressed against all the closed windows. Some of them were squirming. Silver fish spilled out of the moon roof, which had been left open by some very unlucky visitor to Lincoln Park, and silver fish flipped and flopped over the hood, slid down the windshield, and lay gasping on the oil-stained asphalt by the Porsche’s tires.
Bobbyjay walked around the car, surveying the damage.
“I take a nap in the middle of the evening,” Bobby Senior groused, “and this happens. I can’t take a nap around you guys!”
“I can’t wait to see the look on his face!” said Bobbyjay’s Dad, Bobby Junior. His cousins Bobbert and Raybob fell over themselves with joy at this thought. His uncle, Rob the Snob Morton, sneered.
Bobbyjay closed his eyes. Didn’t help. The car was still there when he opened them. Also about a million live smelt.
“You better hope he don’t see you,” Bobby Senior said.
In that moment Bobbyjay knew the worst. He saw the license plate. MARTYDIT. ANTIQUE.
His heart clutched up. “You have to get out of here,” he blurted.
Bobby Junior turned like a snake. “What did you say?”
“Hey, dopey, who you bossing around?” Bobbert, especially shitfaced, tried to swagger and fell against his brother.
“Yeah, who you think you are, dumbo?” Raybob said.
Bobbyjay swallowed. They might kill him, but only metaphorically. Unlike the owner of the car. “You have to go. Now. Before he gets back.”
Dad leaned into his face. “And why the fuck should we do that? This car took almost an hour to fill up. We put all the smelt we had in it. Took us all night to catch ’em.” He raised his fist to his son. “You’re not only stupid, kid, you’re a fuckin’ killjoy!”
“Because,” Bobbyjay said, blinking at the beer on his father’s breath, “Pop is up for re-election to the Executive Board this year.”
He gestured at Bobby Senior.
Bobby Junior turned, reddening, saw Bobby Senior’s face, and straightened. Bobbyjay breathed again.
“The kid’s right,” Bobby Senior said. “You better scoot.”
“And let him take the credit for our work? In a pig’s hole!” Bobby Junior said, but less loudly.
“And let him take the blame, Bobby Junior,” Rob the Snob said in a patronizing tone, his haughty face lopsided with beer.
Bobbyjay did the bravest thing he’d done in three years. “No.”
Everyone turned to look at him in astonishment.
“I can’t take it this time.” Before anyone could massacre him, he said, “None of us can. Pop’s up for re-election. You know how Marty Ditorelli reacts. If he knows you did this—if he thinks any Morton did this—he’ll go ballistic. It’ll mean war.” He risked a glance at his grandfather. “Again. Right before the election.”
The penny dropped. Bobby Senior’s eyes bugged out. “Shit! He’s right. Gitcher asses out of my sight. Now!” he bellowed.
The other four picked up their pails and fled.
Bobby Senior looked at Bobbyjay. “Don’t just stand there, kid. Do somethin’.” Then he, too, was gone.
Alone with the Porsche full of fish, Bobbyjay walked around it again, trying to think. Man, what a mess. Some fish were actually trying to swim around. But it was just too crowded.
Bobbyjay saw his sneaker-prints on the asphalt around the car and returned to his Jeep. Might as well call the Opera House. See what kind of trouble he was in.
His cell wouldn’t work. Dead zone. He drove slowly a hundred yards through the park until he could call out.
“Yo, Mikey Ray. Am I busted?”
“Nope. Scooby’s here with me. What happened?”
“Nothin’. I just had to go.”
Mikey Ray clicked his tongue. “Whatever.”
Bobbyjay sighed. “Thanks for covering me. Tell Scooby there’s a cold case in it for him.”
“Yeah, yeah. Ya sap.”
“Bye.” He hung up. In his heart, Bobbyjay knew the damage was done. Marty Ditorelli would learn eventually that the Mortons had been smelt fishing on the lakefront. He would hear even sooner that Bobbyjay had left the Opera House in the middle of a show more or less exactly when his car was vandalized.
But there would be no proof.
Unless one of his cousins sneaked back to watch Marty find it, in spite of Pop’s order.
Bobbyjay started the Jeep and crept back until the Porsche came into view. Oh, shit. The old man loved that car. A vintage ’77 Targa with all original seats and dash. Marty hadn’t loved a car that much since the last car a Morton had destroyed for him, burned it back in 1979, the fateful year, a brand new powder blue Chevy Bonneville with crushed white velvet seats. Bobby Senior was still boasting about that one.
Let Marty Dit figure this out and there would be bloodshed.
Someone walked out of the orangey-black shadows and slowly approached the car.
That wasn’t Marty Dit.
Bobbyjay crept the Jeep closer.
It was a beautiful brunette in a floaty little dress and sandals. A brunette he knew. She stood limply in front of the Porsche and raised her hands to her face. Then she crumpled.
Bobbyjay gunned the engine and raced back to the scene of the crime.
When he jumped out, she was on her knees, sobbing.