A Twinkling Starr
There, in an elaborate costume of a brilliant fur cape, clasped about the neck with a heavy golden chain, and an equally brilliant suit of black and gold stood Jon Starr himself. His broad smile was as bright as his clothing, and Tracey found herself hardly able to see his face past all of the splendor.
“Jon,” Bentam said with a simple nod. Tracey looked about her to see everyone’s reactions.
Bentam calmly gazed, seemingly unfazed by the celebrity before him.
Mittie, as expected, appeared to be positively captivated, her eyes as radiant as Jon’s attire.
Harriet’s face beamed in wonder as she leaned forward from her chaise to take a better look at him.
Charlie, strangely quiet, stared blankly about the room, his eyes finally meeting Tracey’s before looking back at Jon Starr.
Tracey herself could feel a similarly bewildered expression upon her own face, partially from the blindingly bright lights, and partially from the presence of such a well-known figure.
Jon strode into the room, his arms open in a welcoming gesture. “And you’ve brought guests as well!” he said, his smile somehow breaking wider yet. “Welcome, welcome!”
Tracey could now see his face, surprised that he looked so familiar. His golden hair was parted in the middle, the front’s parting strangely resembling a mustache. His face did not sport any sort of facial hair, instead very smooth. His light blue eyes matched the surrounding walls, and they danced with warmth and laughter.
“You must pardon my attire,” he explained, gesturing to his clothing. “Usually I’d sit guests down to tea, but you’ve just caught me before I was heading to rehearsals.”
“Rehearsals? Is that for your play And Then the Summer’s Eve Cried?” Mittie blurted, scooting forward in her chair.
“A woman of taste, I see,” he laughed. “Yes, you are correct. Who are these friends of yours, Bentam?” Jon said, turning to him with a flourish. “It’s lovely to be in such company as those who know stage plays.”
“That is Mittie, next to her is Tracey, and these two children are Harriet and Charlie,” Bentam said, pointing to each person in turn.
“Charmed, a pleasure to meet all of you, really,” Jon said, flashing a warm smile to each person.
“Pleasure’s all mine, Mr. Starr—,” Mittie started.
“Oh, do please call me Jon! Mr. Starr is far too…stuffy for my tastes.”
“Well!” Mittie said. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Jon!”
“Hm,” Jon hummed in a pleased manner, with a small smile, closed eyes, and tilt of the head. “Now,” he said, turning to Bentam, “how may I help you? I know you’re a very busy man, and knowing that I’m a busy man myself, you must have had something of great urgency to tell me?”
“Yes, Jon, this company here with me have had the unfortunate event of encountering a pamphlet distributor. Mittie?” he said, holding out his hand.
“’course!” she said, as she pulled out the pamphlet from the pocket of her knickerbockers.
“A woman of taste and fashion too?” Jon said, with an impressed raise of his brows. “I dare say those pair of knickerbockers are the finest I’ve ever seen. Please, do tell, where did you get those from?”
“Made ’em myself!” she proudly said. “Y’see, I do a lot of traveling as a tradeswoman.”
“Practicality too—I like this one, Bentam!” he said, turning back to Bentam, who was unfolding the pamphlet. Tracey looked over to Mittie. Mittie wore a small smile as she looked down at her hands.
“Hm,” Bentam grunted. “This pamphlet,” he continued, louder, “directs the guests to Baldgrass Theatre, two days from now. I’m here to confirm if this location will be correct?”
“May I see that?” Jon held out a hand, taking the paper. His face stilled into a frown as he examined the sheet. “No…no, this isn’t right. I’m performing at the Stateshire Theatre.”
Bentam sighed. “I was afraid that was the case. I’ll add this to the case recordset.”
“Oh, dear,” Jon groaned. “Was it that same woman passing this out?”
“Yes. And elusive as ever.”
“This won’t do,” Jon sank into a seat near him. “I’m sure each of you was looking forward to my performance in a few days?”
“No, not partic—,” Bentam started.
“Yes! I was taking Harriet, Charlie, and Trace with me to see you!” Mittie said, leaning forward. “And Bentam, of course, if he’d be interested.”
“No, no that won’t be necce—.”
“Yes, I know just what to do!” Jon said with a clap, standing up. “Hassan!”
Almost immediately, the butler appeared. “Yes, Jon?” he said with a nod.
“Please draft up some tickets for them, VIP, front row.”
“Right away.” And with that, ducked out of the room again.
“I do apologize for any confusion or disappointment this may have caused,” Jon said. “I hope this small gesture may suffice.”
Everyone was speechless.
“Oh dear,” he groaned, his excitement slipping once more from his face, “I ought to go on tour, get out of this place. It seems as if the longer I stay here in Mondon, the more frequent these false performances become.”
“I assure you that we are doing our utmost to catch the perpetrator and bring you peace of mind.”
“Thank you, Bentam,” he replied with a smile. “I appreciate your dedication. But this situation is rather stressful, you see. Imagine my reputation—ruined!”
“With such a reputation as large as yours, I doubt that,” Bentam answered.
“I suppose, but—.”
Before another word could be spoken, a clock in the foyer rang.
“Oh, is it five already? Dear me, I’ll be late!” Jon hurried to the foyer. “Hassan will see you out, I’ll ask Rollo to bring you some refreshments to go.”
“Who’s Rollo?” Charlie said, looking around.
“My cook!” Jon said as he ran out the front door. “Can’t be late, tata now!”
The door slammed shut.
“…well…,” Tracey finally said. “That was…”
The door swung open again. Jon poked his head back in. “Dear me, where are my manners? I almost forgot we’ve already met, Ms. Higgenbottom!”
“Yes, it was lovely to see you again. Please let Mr. Porter know that I’d like to set up a follow-up appointment with him later this week.”
“A-a-appointment?” Tracey stammered. “I don’t recall seeing you before?”
“Must be the costumes,” he said as he waved his hand. “I must steam away now, or I’ll be late! Tata, all, I’ll see you at the performance!”
With that, the door slammed shut once more. A few moments later, the once idle steam car could be heard as it roared to life (along with a few startled neighs from nearby horses), and the group watched as the vehicle sped past the window, leaving a billowing cloud of steam in its wake.
“Gears, look at it go!” Charlie said, running up to the window and watching as it swerved around the corner. “Neva’ seen one so close up before!”
“Yes…,” Tracey said. She suddenly felt as if someone were staring at her, and sure enough, looking over to Bentam, she found his gaze unnervingly focused on her. “Yes?” she inquired.
“Jon is a client of Mr. Porter?” he slowly asked.
“That’s what he said, yes. But he could have been mistaken.” Tracey replied. “Although…I believe I may have written his name down in our appointment book…”
“And you know,” Mittie piped, “We just found out Mrs. Pinot is a client of his too! How come you have so many clients you don’t remember, Trace?”
“Hm.” Bentam stood up and walked out into the foyer. “Strange…,” he muttered as he began to change his shoes. The rest looked at each other, shrugged, and joined him. Tracey trailed behind to snatch up the now abandoned advertisement to the fraudulent performance. She tucked it into her pocket and rejoined the group in time to hear Mittie speak.
“I can’t believe it…,” she said as she pulled up her shoes. “I met the Jon Starr! He’s so much friendlier than I thought, based on what Bentam here said.”
“Hey…,” Bentam grunted.
“…and he likes me!”
“You’re a very likable person!” Charlie said as he stowed his and Harriet’s newly acquired slippers into his vest.
“Thank you, Charlie!” Mittie squealed. “Oh, I must be dreaming! Wait ’till Reggie hears of this!”
“Reggie?” Harriet echoed.
“Her beau,” Tracey chimed in. She forced a smile. “I’m glad that you were able to meet your favorite actor.”
“And to think I wouldn’t have met him today if I hadn’t—,” Mittie cut herself off, her excitement seeming to drain away. “Oh, yes. There’s more important matters on hand than my little fanfare isn’t there…? I’m sorry, Trace.”
“No, you’re quite entitled to your joy,” Tracey graciously replied. “Who knows, maybe I can find a lead yet here!”
“Ladies and gentlemen, your tickets,” Hassan said as he whisked into the room. He held out a tray with five golden tickets.
“Well if that isn’t just squeaky?” Mittie exclaimed. Each, except for Bentam, took one.
“Thank you, sir, but I will not be needing it,” he said.
“I insist. Jon and I are good friends. We’ve been close for years and to see him give you his tickets so easily…not to mention front row? Or VIP? I had to cancel a few reservations to get these to you. Please, do take it.”
“If you insist,” Bentam said as he carefully took the ticket and place it in his breast-pocket.
“He must admire all of you greatly for him to have made such a tall order.”
“I just happened to drop by to help further a case of his.”
“Thank you,” Tracey added. Bentam squinted at her before looking away.
“The cook will be here momentarily,” Hassan said. He turned and left the room.
“Now that this is done,” Bentam suddenly said. “I will need to have all of you to my office for statements on your case.”
“You’ve decided to open it?” Tracey said, her whole demeanor perking up.
“Yes, as I see you have three witnesses here.” Bentam gestured to Mittie, Harriet, and Charlie.
“Here’s your food. I’ve packed them in a box,” a booming voice said from behind them.
“Oh, my! How long have you been there?” Tracey gasped as she spun around.
There stood a towering man, his large stature dwarfing Tracey in comparison. His thin mustache matched the thin line that his own mouth formed. A tall white hat sat on the top of his head. The cook, I suppose. Tracey nervously thought, trying to ignore his scowl.
“I’ve been here long enough,” the cook grunted. “Here,” he said, thrusting the box at them. Tracey quickly took it and handed it to Harriet.
“Here Harriet, you can take these.”
“Gears!” she exclaimed, hugging the box close to her. “Thank you, Trace!”
“I’ll see you out,” the cook said as he stepped closer to Tracey. Tracey backed away, along with everyone else. “Don’t come back,” he abruptly said and slammed the door shut as soon as the last person filed out.
“Can’t say he was as personable as Jon, eh?” Mittie sniffed.
“No, unfortunately,” Tracey agreed as they turned around. The group froze.
There, at the base of the stairs was none other than Ms. Halpin herself. Much tidier in appearance than earlier, but undoubtedly her. In her hands was a considerably smaller stack of flyers. She gaped. “Ah…,” she finally managed to say.
“Ms. Elizaveta Halpin. I’ve been looking for you. May I have a word?” Bentam said as he advanced down the stairs, his eyes narrowed.
Elizaveta stood frozen at the base of the stairs. “Ah…,” she repeated. “Um…” Just as Bentam reached her at the bottom of the stairs, she turned and ran away. Instead of giving chase, Bentam simply sighed and turned back to the group.
“You’re not chasin’ her?” Charlie exclaimed.
“No, no. Mondon’s only so large before a constable will find her,” he said. “It is rather strange, however… Here she is at Mr. Starr’s residence and earlier around Mrs. Pinot’s residence?” He frowned. “This can’t be a coincidence… Ms. Higgenbottom, can you absolutely confirm that Jon was a client at your establishment?”
Tracey hesitated. With all of the clients Mr. Porter received on a daily, it was hard for her to pinpoint if Jon had been there. Especially if he were in costume or disguise. Her eyes met the expectant gazes of each person. It’s technically against Keeper Shoppe standards to let Constables see client information…but if this can be a connection to Mr. Porter’s disappearance… “I’d have to check the record books first,” she said aloud, “but yes, I should be able to. Follow me.”