The Mad Scene

“I want her dead.”  He leaned across the expanse of his desk and stared at the man across from him.

“She’s a young girl.  What could she have possibly done that she deserves to die?”  He ran his hand through what remained of his hair.  Maybe the next time he was paid he would look into a hair transplant.

“She’s embarrassed me.  That’s enough.”  He dropped two ice cubes into a glass and then poured himself a scotch from a bottle he kept on his credenza.

“It was only an egg.  Can’t you find—”
“Another?”  He drained his glass and poured himself another. “It’s a Faberge.”
He shrugged his shoulders.  He didn’t understand his employer’s fascination with a jeweled egg, but then he was Ukrainian.

“Then are you refusing the job?”
“I didn’t say that.”  He looked down at the rug which he just noticed was an ugly paisley design.

“Do you suddenly have scruples?”  He brushed non-existent lint from his jacket.  “There are plenty of people who would take this job in a minute.  I can call–” He opened his phone and scrolled through his contacts. “Boris is probably available.”

“Fine,” he said, exasperation creeping into his voice.  “I’ll do it.”
“I promise you this will be fun and satisfying.”  He pushed a first class ticket across the desk as well as a libretto.

“What am I supposed to do with this?”  He waved the booklet in his employer’s face.
“You should be able to figure it out, but remember I want a splash.”
It was a special night at the State Theater.  For American Ballet Society, it was the premiere of the widely anticipated classic, Giselle, which Mark Russell, the ballet master in chief, had updated to the Manhattan of the nineteen seventies.  The title role, coveted by all the up and coming ballerinas in the company, was being danced by a newcomer, Nina Nevskaya, a Russian import.  After several auditions, Mark, had settled on her, much to the chagrin of the instructors at the School of Ballet Society, the Board of Directors, and Ashley Johnson, another dancer. Because Nina was trained at the Kirov,  she didn’t know the Balanchine technique or the mystique.  Yet she did know the classics.  For Mark, this happened to be the deal breaker.

The audience was abuzz.  Mark’s predecessor, Peter Martins, was responsible for bringing a full length Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and Romeo and Juliet to the State Theater. All were huge financial successes.  Capitalizing on Peter’s vision, Mark had decided to bring Giselle, to the stage and following Peter’s lead, had cast age appropriate dancers.  Giselle was a young peasant girl while Count Albrecht was both older and world wise. Nina was the perfect choice to dance the lead.  She was barely twenty and seemed vulnerable. There would be no thirty-five year old Giselles for Ballet Society.  If the ballet going public wanted to see a mature dancer, they could cross the plaza and see American Ballet Theater’s production.

The premiere was to be followed by a gala, held in a tent in Damrosch Park.  Because the First Lady and other luminaries were scheduled to attend, the plaza was crawling with Secret Service agents.  In dark suits and Raybans, they didn’t even try to blend in with the theatergoers.  This was just the way the assassin liked things.

It was a balmy night, and as the assassin waited on line, he mopped his brow with a handkerchief. For weeks, this had been one of the hottest tickets in town, rivaling a seat to Beautiful or The Book of Mormon.  In the wake of recent security breaches by Secret Service agents on the presidential detail, however, the lines to enter the theater were long. No cursory searches were going to be conducted tonight.  Rather the security personnel were equipped with those hand held metal detectors which were causing the delay getting inside the theater.

“Would you mind opening your briefcase, sir?”  The security guard, flashlight in one hand and detector in the other, stood blocking the entrance to the theater.
“Sure, no problem.”  He unsnapped the lock and it fell open to reveal several files and a half eaten sandwich, wrapped in aluminum foil.

“Fine.  Thank you.”
Gripping his briefcase in his left hand, the assassin crossed the lobby.  He was suddenly thirsty, due to a few anxious moments while waiting to pass security, and wanted to soothe his nerves with a few sips of wine.  He didn’t like drinking while on the job, but he needed to calm down in order to be successful.  He hated spending ten dollars for a glass of wine that would remain unfinished.  It wasn’t his habit to waste food or drink.  Growing up poor in Kiev, it irked him to be so extravagant.  He could, he supposed, write it off as a business expense.  That was what he planned to do.  The thought made him feel better instantaneously.

The assassin could barely hear the usher over the din.  He couldn’t believe how a ballet about a foolish peasant girl falling for an aristocrat could cause such excitement.

“Sorry.”  He pulled it from his pocket and handed it to her.
“Hm. Prime seating,”  she said, handing him a program and pointing in the direction of his seat.  “Enjoy.”

“I will.”  The assassin wended his way to his seat on the right side of the first ring.  He had toyed with the idea of sitting front row and center but then decided he would be too conspicuous.  Like John Wilkes Booth, he had to take his shot and then leave the theater as quickly as possible.  There would be no time to admire his handiwork or to witness the commotion his deed would cause.  All he needed to know was that he had taken a clean shot, and that it had hit his target.  Case closed.

Exhaling, he rested his briefcase against his seat.  The people who would be surrounding him were late arrivals, probably still enjoying a glass of champagne or the warm weather.  He took the opportunity to open his briefcase and examine its contents.  He couldn’t believe his good fortune that he had smuggled his weapon inside, but he had a false bottom to thank for that.  He was glad that security was so inept.  The guard had barely shown the flashlight into his case, and then he hadn’t bothered to lift the files.  It was a good thing that he wasn’t stationed at the airport.  His search skills were so limited that there was no telling what he would let on an airplane.  It wasn’t a comforting thought because he was flying to Rio at the conclusion of this job.

The assassin peered into the orchestra pit.  The musicians were tuning their instruments and were otherwise preparing for the performance.  As he waited for the ballet to begin, he reviewed the last couple of weeks in his mind.  First, there was the call offering him the job.  Despite his high price, negotiations went swiftly.  His employer, though reluctant, agreed to his fee.  Next, there was the angst of getting a premium ticket to the ballet.  A world premiere was always dicey.  Besides the resident balletomanes in New York City, there were the society people who had to be seen at these events.  He couldn’t sit in the second, third, or fourth rings with the masses. Closer was better.  The probability of something going wrong was greatly reduced.  And he was all about lessening the possibility of something going south.  He was a professional.  He didn’t make mistakes.  It wasn’t in his repertoire.

He had studied the layout of the theater on the internet.  There was only one place to sit, and he had to come by this ticket legitimately.  His employer was clueless when he mentioned his predicament to him.  He said he was the expert so he was content to leave him to his own devices.  At first, he was peeved at his cavalier attitude until he came up with a brilliant idea.

“Ah, the lovely Mrs. Russell.” He smiled as he remembered running into the wife of the ballet master at a wine bar.  If he ever decided to give up the assassination business, he might have a career as a stalker.

“Do I know you?”  she asked offering her hand.
“The benefit two nights ago?”
“Oh, of course,”  she said.  Confusion clouded her face.  “I’m sorry I’ve been to
so many lately that I didn’t recognize you at first.”

“We had a glass of wine together, and I was telling you how I was only in New York for a week and couldn’t get a ticket to Ballet Society’s Giselle.”   He sighed for added effect.  “My visit to your city wouldn’t be complete without seeing this new version of my favorite ballet.”  He took her hand and kissed it lightly.  This usually drove women crazy, and he hoped this would have the same effect on her.

The rest of that evening had been a whirlwind.  He had later winked at her from across the room, and the next thing he knew he was in her apartment sipping a martini.  He again steered the conversation towards the premiere, but she had no intention of surrendering a premium ticket without payment. After pouring him a second drink, she suddenly had her hands in places where they didn’t belong.  He had heard rumors that Mark Russell was known not only for his innovative choreography but also for ravishing the females in the corps. Mark liked to sample his wares before casting them in a plum part.  It was rather a strange rite of passage for the girls, but apparently it worked because he was responsible for molding his share of stars.  And there were no complaints, except if one could count Mrs. Russell.  She was rumored to be sex starved, and he had no qualms about screwing her against the door of the master bathroom if he could walk out of the apartment with a ticket.

“I think you’re in my seat.”
It was the scent of her perfume that roused him from his reverie. It was probably not cheap, but it was cloying.  “I am?”

“It’s my subscription seat.”  She plucked the ticket from his outstretched hand.  “What are you doing in it?”  She took off her wrap and proceeded to drape it over the back of the seat.  “I paid premium dollar to be here tonight.”

“So did everyone else in the house.”  He watched as she compared her ticket to his.  Was it possible that Mrs. Russell had given him a bogus ticket?  The thought chilled him.  He had gone to too much trouble for his plan to fail.

“Oops, my mistake.”  She handed the ticket back to him and gestured across the orchestra.  “I’m on the opposite the side of the theater.  So sorry. Maybe we can meet for a drink at intermission?  My treat.”

“That’s not necessary but thanks.”
With the lights finally dimmed, the overture of Giselle began.  Instead of being nervous, the assassin felt a sense of calm.  Over the past couple of weeks, he had studied the ballet.  He had viewed countless DVDs of performances from the last sixty years.  Some were good; others left him cold.  He had settled on one particular scene in which to take his shot.  There would be enough happening during the mad scene that no one, either on stage or in the audience, would notice the ballerina was dead.  By the time anyone on stage or in the theater figured out Giselle wasn’t going to wake up from her collapse, he would be long gone.  With any luck, he would be halfway to the airport.

The audience clapped wildly as the new sensation, Nina Nevskaya, opened the door of her cottage and walked onto the stage.  She was dressed in a sky blue peasant style dress with a white bodice.  Her hair was neatly gathered in a bun at the nape of her neck.  Happily, she fluttered around the stage like a carefree girl, so unaware as to what was about to befall her.

The entrance of Count Albrecht wasn’t met with the same enthusiasm.  Ethan Moore, a veteran dancer with the company, was no longer a rising star nor was he the current flavor of the month. When he stepped onto the stage, the audience’s reaction was merely polite.  Besides, Albrecht wasn’t loved by female balletomanes who took the story of Giselle far too seriously.  He was the ultimate cad, a bastard for the way he treated that poor, impressionable girl.  His promise to marry her when all along he was engaged to Princess Bathilde wasn’t looked upon kindly by any female.  Giselle was every woman’s story.

Or so Mrs. Russell, just another high maintenance woman, had told him. While the unsuspecting Giselle danced with the exuberance of first love, he fingered his pistol.

It was as if the next few minutes unfolded in slow motion. Hilarion, her rejected suitor, exposed Albrecht for the two-timing bastard he was. Giselle, suddenly crazed, ran across the stage and flung herself into her mother’s arms who tried her best to comfort her.  With her arms flailing and her hair wild, she grabbed Albrecht’s sword and dragged it across the stage.  The audience gasped, believing she was about to plunge it into her heart.

“Take the shot. She is about to collapse in Albrecht’s arms.”  There were only seconds left before the fictional Giselle died.  “Now before you lose the opportunity.”

His instructions from his employer were simple.  Shoot to kill.  One shot.  Make it clean.  Make sure she is dead.  Put down the gun.  Leave the theater quickly but in a manner as to not arouse suspicion. Get out of Manhattan.  A ticket would be waiting for him at the International Arrivals Building at Kennedy, taking him any place in the world he wanted to go. The money would be wired to his bank account.  A simple, foolproof plan.

The assassin stood and aimed. As if on cue, Giselle fluttered and fell dead into Albrecht’s arms.  Albrecht looked surprised, but the assassin couldn’t tell if it was because he realized he was holding a dead body.

He didn’t bother to wait for the blood to spread across her bodice.  He was sure it would be by the time he hit the exit, and it would garner the appropriate reaction.

No time to lament he couldn’t admire his handiwork.  He smirked as he pushed through the glass doors of the theater and stepped onto the plaza.

Everything should be so easy.

While in real life, I am a government prosecutor in New York, I am convinced I was a famous ballerina in a former life. My signature role, of course, was Giselle.  I have been a long time subscriber to the New York City Ballet (who doesn’t perform Giselle by the way). I have also been a mystery fan since grammar school, and Nancy Drew is my idol. Although Nancy is not a character, I did set my story at the ballet and at the State Theater where I have seen many wonderful performances.

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