When I turned Asean was standing there. He wrinkled his nose before his lip twitched up at the corner.
I glared at him, but he touched his cheek lightly.
“You have some dirt on your face,” he said.
I wiped my cheek with the side of my hand only to tense up a second after I’d done it. My eyes widened when I saw the green and blue make-up smear. I gaped at him.
He smirked and walked away. I narrowed my eyes at his retreating back before running into one of the dressing rooms to evaluate the damage. The middle of the vine was smudged across my cheek. I sighed and picked up a nearby hand towel, scrubbing it off. Hopefully Valli wouldn’t be upset.
When I looked up from the mirror a myriad of people were in the room getting ready. People streamed by me, hardly noticing my presence.
“What happened?” I heard a familiar soft voice.
I spun around to face Valli. Cracking a nervous smile, I explained, “Oh. Umm… I forgot about the make-up and accidentally smeared it.”
“Oh,” he answered. I waited anxiously. He smiled. “That happens all the time.”
I finally exhaled. “So you’re getting ready?”
He nodded. “Did you need anything?”
“No, I was just wiping up the mess I made.”
“Are you sure? I hate to feel like a poor host.”
My smile softened. “Don’t worry about me. I can entertain myself. Go ahead and get ready for your show.”
“If you’re sure,” he still sounded reluctant, but he sat in front of a mirror to continue applying his make-up. Ellora was stationed near the door again with another person working on her.
I leaned close to her. She glanced up at me from the corner of her eye without moving her head.
“Hey, can you point out who Tanikaye is?”
“Tanikaye?” She held up a hand and her make-up artist paused while she turned her head. “He’s the one over there, with the braids.”
She gestured towards a group of actors. One had a braid wrapped around his head like a crown.
Tanikaye’s group ran around, flustered and skittish. I made my way over.
“Is everything ready?”
“I can’t find the clip for my costume.”
“Did you leave it on the counter?”
“There’s a tear on my belt! What should I do?”
I listened to their prattling for a moment before butting in, “Are you guys new?”
Eyes focused on me.
“Having some issues?” I asked.
“We’re just trying to get ready.”
“It must be pretty nerve-racking being new here. Does anyone give you a hard time?”
“The seniors are rough on us but that’s common in a lot of theaters. But it’s exciting, too.” He was a larger man – the type who could play the part of an officer or soldier. His demeanor, though, showed a mixture of excitement and anxiety just like the others.
A second nodded in agreement. She was medium-sized, just an inch taller than I was. “Especially at this theater. It doesn’t get any bigger than this. I’d saw off my right leg to work here!”
So the novices got picked on but it was expected. Like a trial.
The group fiddled about in the back corner in a constant state of panic. They checked their costumes, looked at the scripts and rifled through their make-up as if they were certain they’d overlook something.
“Is my make-up on fine?” Tanikaye asked after staring in the mirror. He held his hands up like he wanted to touch it but kept them off of his face.
“Look at me.”
His fellow actor inspected his make-up, looking at it from all angles. “It looks okay. How about mine?”
Tanikaye leaned both ways, his face inches from the other man’s before giving him a nod.
“Do we have all the props?”
Tanikaye picked up a piece of paper and they went through a list. Even then they seemed uncertain, but they gave up and began reciting their lines. They had short parts – one or two lines each – and yet they seemed terrified that they’d mess them up.
Another actor shouted at them, “Hey, clean this up over here!”
The group of jittery actors got to work, picking up and wiping counters off after other actors.
If newcomers expected some harsh treatment perhaps a scolding wouldn’t be a good enough motive for murder. They had plenty of people giving them a hard time. Why go after Ellora?
It was still a possibility but I decided to work on my next lead. I sorted through the notes in my head. She got into a fight with a dancer. L…Luleeno.
Ellora pointed her out for me.
Her hair pin snatched my attention. It was a small purple flower – similar to the kind Valli wore. I had to erase it from my mind. Robbery hadn’t been the motive.
Right? I thought it over again. We could be missing a detail. Maybe brushing aside the possibility wasn’t a good idea.
She was a dancer, so she was near Valli. I blended in easily, moving to Valli’s other side and sitting closer to her. She was finishing her make-up so she was focused on the mirror, leaning in so close she was almost nose to nose with herself.
My eyes kept wandering to the flower in her hair until she took it off and set it on the counter. I glanced to Valli and decided to make a comment to see what he would say.
“That looks like the flowers you wear.”
He glanced over at it and gave a small affirmative sound.
If it was his he’d have said something about it. That confirmed it wasn’t stolen.
I waited for her to chat with someone but she stayed quiet until people were heading for the stage. She said one line to another to another dancer, “The show starts in five?” and got a confirmation. There wasn’t an opening to get information about her.
Time was running low. I quickly had Ellora point out both Erona and Tiamy for me. Erona was a tall woman with an oval face and a short nose. She had full eyebrows and thick lips.
Tiamy was a short woman with a bob haircut. She had large eyes and a round face, giving her a youthful look.
That gave a face to all of my suspects. I just needed to keep an eye out for them and see if anyone stuck out.
Unfortunately, everyone was leaving to start the show, so I didn’t have time start any conversations. I placed myself against the wall again. The view of the back area was good there. The kitchen was to my left and the living quarters were to my right, and most of the doors were in view.
Before he needed to go, Valli stopped by my spot with some juice. I shot him a grin. I hadn’t been thinking about food or drinks but it really did hit the spot. Even if I couldn’t spend the entire visit with him, he was still being considerate.
I kept my eyes peeled during the show. Every time people rushed by I looked for anything that seemed out of place.
Flurries of people whooshed by to the dressing room. I didn’t pay them any mind at first. It was normal for them to go there. But I recognized Erona, and she hung back from her group before breaking off and going into a different door. There were so many doors in the back that I had to rack my mind to remember where that one led – and it hit me like a brick. The basement!
They didn’t need anything from the basement for the show, so why was she going down there?