Max and the Lost Shakespeare Thank-You Note, Part 1: The Turn of the Table
In the basement-level shop she worked from, Maxine Cho looked in to her crystal ball, stepping lightly on the lighting pedal to give it that “other-worldly” internal glow. “I sense,” she said in an exaggerated, generic – and completely fake – Asian accent. “That you seek answers.”
His wife rolled her eyes. “Wow, you come to fortune teller and she says you want answers.”
“You seek wisdom from the other world,” Max continued.
The wife snorted. “Oh, this is too much. Honey, she’s a fraud, and you’re a sucker. Here’s my question, where’s my Frank Zappa CD that I lost six months ago?”
Time to break out the big guns, Max thought. She said, “We must contact someone from your past. Your distant past. I ask to speak with your great, great, great grandfather! Appear to us!”
The wife started to laugh, and then went very pale. Behind Max a ghostly apparition appeared, floating several feet above the ground. He was dressed in Victorian garb, and had a large mustache and monocle. “Who wakes me from my eternal sleep?” he moaned in a voice that echoed from the depths of the universe.
Max turned to the specter and, subtly, darted her eyes to their coats on the couch. Not high end. And yet a playbill for the opera that was in town was sticking conspicuously out of the pocket. Like many cities, the theatre district was conveniently located next to the worst part of town and sometimes you got lucky. “Oh ethereal spirit, this woman seeks her Frank Zappa CD.”
“Holy crap,” the woman muttered. The man said nothing. He remained strangely expressionless.
“This musical recording you seek, the sound strapped in the disc like my soul in this earthly prison, doomed to be a mere echo of my self and forever spin endlessly—“
Maxine cleared her throat.
Reginald, the ghost, sighed. “It is in one of your classic music CD cases. The one’s you leave out to impress everyone. The…” He took a shot in the dark. “The Matthaus Passion CD case.”
The woman said, “That’s amazing. I mean… that’s amazing.”
Yeah, Max thought. Who’s a fraud now, sucka? Then thought, Well, me. I’m a fraud, but still…
The man began clapping slowly. He smiled. “I didn’t know you actually had a ghost. I just thought you’d met one. I’m – ah hah – impressed.”
Max looked at him skeptically. Reginald hovered skeptically. “I do not understand,” she said.
“You can drop the accent Miss Cho. I wondered if you’d notice the playbill. Well done. I wonder how you’d be at finding something else.”
“This was an audition?” she said, dropping the accent.
“Of sorts. But also a conversation starter. Something told me you’d shut the door if I approached you outright. I’ve heard about your experience dealing in the mystical and hard to locate. I’ve also heard about your – ah hah – temperament.”
“Point of fact,” Reginald said testily. “She does not ‘have’ a ghost. I am a colleague.”
“Yeah, a colleague who doesn’t stick to the script. ‘A mere echo of my former self.” Seriously?”
“You can never know—“ Reginald began and was cut off.
“And where,” the man interrupted, “is your dog, Bonkers?”
“Culinary institute. Dessert symposium.”
“What can I say. Cake decorating is his life. Look, what do you want me to find?”
“A simple task, I hope. Nothing of any danger.” Something about the way he said it made her neck hair stand up. “You are familiar with William Shakespeare?”
There was a pause.
Max said, “I’m sorry, I assumed that was rhetorical.”
“We are searching for a lost work of his. We believe you may be the person to find it.”
“A lost play? Wow, really?”
“A hah, no. But a work of equal importance for many reasons. A work that few know even exists. A poem. One he wrote in gratitude to a king.“
“A thank you note,” Reginald said, still hovering behind her.
Max nodded in thought. “I bet the man could write the shit out of a thank you note.”
“True,” Reginald agreed. “But the profanity adds nothing.”
She turned back to the man. “So, a thank you note poem for what?”
“All I know,” the man continued, as if she’d said nothing. “Is that it involves Shakespeare thanking a king. That is all my employer told me.” He set a sealed, manila envelope on the table. “Everything we know is in this envelope.”
“Your employer. And that would be…?”
The man leaned back. “I work under… let’s call him Barry.”
Max nodded slowly. “I can look in to it. No promises. Ask a few contacts. I know some people at the university.”
“Excellent.” The man left his card on the table. “We can pay twice your usual rate – time is of the essence. I’ll be in touch.” He and the woman left. Max stayed sitting at the table for a long time, not even bothering to turn of the light in her crystal ball. She was far enough behind on the rent that it’d be turned off any moment anyway.
“Your thoughts?” Reginald asked. “Plans? Ideas who Barry might be?”
“Oh, Barry isn’t a who. He’s a what.”
“Exactly. Barry is the big, stuffed bear that hangs over the entrance to a bar on the eastside, The Grizzly Bar. A bar with a lot of questionable business dealings. If they’re involved, there’s probably more to this than I’d like to know.”
“So what shall we do?”
And don’t forget to leave things you’d like to see turn up in parts 3 & 4!