Acting the Angel

7 Nov

Hanging around behind the scenes in a theatre is not as great as it sounds. Certainly not once most people have gone home, but sometimes, the best stories can come from the snippets of overheard conversations when it is thought that nobody is listening.

Oh I’m not a reporter, just a photographer. One day though, I may just get the story that will give me  that big break, or at least a lot of cash. The stage is being swept one final time. I stand in the wings, just waiting. I can see the door to the dressing room is slightly ajar. A beam of light filters through into the dark corridor. I can hear voices, but wanting to remain unnoticed, I do not move closer. Anything I need to know will spill out, eventually.

The caretaker has finished sweeping, and the last lights in the theatre hall are switched off. Turning back to the corridor, I sense someone is there. Paranoia at being caught does this to you. They say smoking weed is bad for your mind, but nothing like the paranoia that one gets from being somewhere they shouldn’t

A girl leaves the dressing room, placing her headphones in as she walks by. Behind her the light goes out in the dressing room, and my eyes take time to adjust. The last to leave, and now making her way down the corridor is Sasha Silver, aka Sasha Smith. The star of the show who made the headlines with her rags to riches story. I shake my head. When will people tire of this same story. Sure she didn’t come from the best area, but you would hardly have called her poor by heritage, more poor by lifestyle choice. Now that’s a story that won’t be published until her fall from fame.

I consider leaving, there can’t be anyone left. Sasha passes me, and then I hear her scream. The scream has been suppressed, and I can hear a gravely males voice, ‘Where is it Sasha?’ I can hear her struggling, and she moans. It is obvious he is covering her mouth. ‘Where is the briefcase you little bitch?’ He’s removed his hand, she tries to scream. Again, it is muffled. ‘Scream again, and I’ll kill you. Now where is it?’

‘In my car, under the seat,’ she stammers, her breathing heavy and irregular. The sound of items falling to the ground, echo in the silence. ‘You tell anyone I was here, and you’ve had it.’ The sound of his fist cracking her cheekbone breaks the silence; as my own gasp lodges in my chest, leaving me winded. When his footsteps have ceased, I come out from my hiding place and run to help.

She sits there helpless on the hard ground. Her face bruised and swollen with a red track of blood mingled with tears. Her make up has run, her clothes are all crumpled. It is a far cry from the Sasha Silver who was up on the stage only an hour or so ago. I pick up her handbag and replace the contents that have been tipped on the floor. In silence I help her out of the theatre to my parked car.

It’s not often one gets to know a star intimately. Not in that way, I know what you are thinking but I mean intimately in a best friend way. Seeing them without their make up, or sitting in front of the TV; that was how I got to know the real Sasha the following weeks after the incident.

We didn’t talk about what happened, but she stayed in my apartment knowing she was safe. Located just South of London on the fourth floor of a poorly designed seventies block, it was the least unlikely place you would expect to find Sasha. Especially when you consider the interior design. True to the original architecture, orange glass panels separating the kitchen and living space,  brown tiles and wood-chip wallpaper. Somehow, it still looks fresh, as if the flat is less than a year old.  Sasha had called her agent pulling out of the play, without reason, and as yet had not told anyone of her whereabouts. The papers were full of stories; speculation on new lovers, drugs rehabilitation. I had even been offered more money than my yearly income for just for one snap of her, but still I kept her location secret.

It couldn’t last though, and one night we finally talked. I had so many questions for her to answer. Who was the man? Would he really have killed you? Why don’t you go to the police? The list went on. At first she cried, she said I had broken a promise not to ask. I told her I had never promised, it had just been assumed, but at some point she would have to tell me, so she did.

‘He wanted the briefcase,’ she began ‘but it’s all I have.’ She looked to the floor, she stayed like that for minute or so.

‘What briefcase?’ I asked. I didn’t really want to ask questions, but I felt it was the only way I would get the truth.

‘It’s jut an old battered briefcase. Dirty and tatty.  I can’t see why it’s so precious to him. It should have been binned a long time ago.’ She stares at me, like a spoilt child.

‘So who is ‘he’?’

She pauses and takes a deep breath. She looks me straight in the eye. ‘Jimmy Richmond.’ The name rings a bell. ‘Oh yes, the same Jimmy Richmond,’ she continues. ‘Last year, before my big break, I was in trouble. I hadn’t a roof over my head and no source of income.’ She checks me for my response, I keep my face expressionless.

‘The only thing I had was an emerald, but I couldn’t part with it. I thought it was only worth a  couple of hundred, if that, so it wasn’t going to solve my problems. I found myself wandering the streets one night, when a car approached me. Disgusted by what they wanted I continued on my way and found a late night café. I bought a cup of tea with my last few pennies.’

I am annoyed. This sounds like something straight our of a poorly written novel. I stand up and walk to the window. I can see the traffic in the street moving slowly, the regular flow interrupted by a black car parked on the opposite side of the street.

‘I got hassled in the café,’ she started hurriedly. ‘The owners wouldn’t help me so I found myself back out on the streets alone and frightened. A guy walking along the road saw me and asked if I was OK. I wasn’t OK, and normally I wouldn’t just trust a stranger, but I needed help, and as cliché as it sounds, he had a friendly face.’

I turn and face her. The tears streak her face. Maybe there is some truth in what she says. Although I do bear in mind that she is an actress, and for all the stories written about her, it was all agreed that she is a bloody good actress.

‘He took me back to his house. It was late at night when he took me there so I didn’t know where it was, but I stayed the night. The following morning he told me about a business opportunity. I was to go with him. When we left the house, I knew we were in Mayfair, and when we arrived at our destination, I knew for sure big money was involved.’

‘You stayed at a strangers? And went off to God knows where with him? What were you thinking?’

She stands up ‘I was desperate,’ she shouts, ‘Have you ever been so desperate that you will do anything to keep yourself afloat?’

I have the decency to look remorseful. No I have never been that desperate, but hell, I will do a paper round if it provides me with a few pennies in my pocket each week. I cross the room and switch on the lamp. At the same time, I glimpse out the window. The black car is parked in the narrow road, causing traffic to stop. Horns beep, and drivers flash their lights. Whoever is the occupant of the car, they appear oblivious to the chaos they are causing. With my attention back on Sasha, I feel a responsibility to her and her well being. It wasn’t by chance she had ended up with me. I pick up the phone and dial the local Chinese, ordering what has become our ‘usual’.

‘Don’t you believe me?’ she accuses, ‘cos I’m sat here telling you where everything has gone wrong, why I have ended up here, and you’re ordering a Chinese!’

I sit down, and run my hands across my face. If only she knew how much I believed her, I just needed to hear the words straight from her. I had to know how much she knew. ‘We still need to eat, and as yet, you have told me very little.’

Sasha sat there with the look of a moody eight year old. Considering she was telling me this had happened little over a year ago, she did a very convincing job of playing the pampered princess. My expression must have given away my thoughts.

‘OK, fine. We turn up at this house, long driveway, fountain in the middle, you know the sort I mean?’

I nod my head.

‘I get invited in, and I’m introduced to Jimmy. I didn’t know who he was, that he had a reputation. I took him as I saw him, incredibly good looking, and treating me with respect.’ She smiles at the memory of the meeting ‘He was the good guy. He talked as if he could solve all my problems.’

‘Then what?’

‘Then we became friends. For a few months I stayed at his, but then he said it was time I repaid the debt. I thought, sure why not, I like this guy, he is everything I have ever dreamed of….but that wasn’t what he wanted.’ She stares at me eyes welling.

My thoughts are exploding in my head. I want to shake her. Tell her to wake up. How could she have been so naive? She had considered a relationship of some kind with this man? My thoughts are interrupted by the door bell. As I pay for the Chinese, Sasha comes and takes it and begins to dish up. I close the door and take my place by the window again. The black car is still there. Once we are seated again, Sasha continues.

‘It was simple the plan. I was to just be a drug runner, depositing them within clubs. I got a cut of whatever I was delivering. For the initial risk of trusting me with such a large quantity of drugs, I had to put down some collateral.’ She hesitates, ‘I didn’t have any collateral, I only had an emerald, a token memory of my grandmother. I trusted him. I handed it to him, he put it in the safe, said I could have it straight back….’

‘But you never saw it again?’ I prompt.

‘After a few months, once I had enough money, I broke into the safe, to take my emerald. It wasn’t there. There was bundles of cash, and a key. So I took the key leaving the money. I didn’t see Jimmy after that.’

I sat there thoughtfully, my dinner now cold. ‘ I don’t understand, you said he wanted the briefcase. Why leave the money? What was the key for?’ I already know the answer, but looking at her now, I don’t want to hear it.

Sasha rolls her eyes at me. An action that proves she really has no idea the significance of what she has done. ‘To take the money was too obvious. He would notice that straight away. So I took the key, knowing it fitted the battered old briefcase.’

‘You took the briefcase at the same time as the key?’

She smiles naughtily. ‘Of course.’

What had she been thinking? I now understand why she wouldn’t contact the police after the attack. She had no idea of the consequence of her act, but theft is theft. I also know that Jimmy Richmond won’t hesitate to kill her to get what he wants. ‘So what now?’ I ask. ‘He has the briefcase, done some damage, that’s the end of it surely.’

Sasha looks away from me. What is she hiding? She clears away the dinner plates. ‘Come on,’ I shout, ‘What aren’t you telling me?’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ she replies into the sink.

My anger erupts. ‘Doesn’t matter? Of course it does. I have invited you into my house. Kept you like a dirty little secret, all the while protecting you from Jimmy Richmond.

Turning, drying her hands unable to look at me, she mumbles. ‘I didn’t catch that,’ I say. She looks at me, and her chin wobbles.

‘I’m sorry’ she cries, ‘I’m sorry, I should never have let you get involved in all of this.’ By now she is sobbing, each one knocking her like a punch in the stomach. I can’t comfort her. I can’t tell her that it was the briefcase that had led me to the theatre.

She begins to calm down, and that’s when she said what I knew would change my life. ‘He hasn’t got the briefcase. It’s here in your flat. I lied to him.’

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