Exclusive Excerpt from Buck Baxter and the Disappearing Divas
by Geoffrey Knight
With a Special Intro from Buck Himself
So you ain’t met me yet? Maybe some of you have, maybe some of you haven’t. The name’s Buck… Buck Baxter, Private Detective. I’m the best gumshoe in Wilde City, probably on account of the fact that the other detectives in this crazy town are all schmucks and snitches. Which is bad for them, good for me, ‘cause in place like Wilde City there’s more mysteries to be solved than bootleg booze stashed away in Bugsy Brown’s hideout. After all, it is the roaring ‘20s. The jazz is loud, parties are big, and the gin is straight off the back of a truck. Here in Wilde City there’s only three types of people: the lovers, the famous and the dead. Me? I ain’t famous, and I wasn’t dead last time I checked… but thanks to the arrival of playboy millionaire Holden Hart in town, well there might just be a chance of me becoming someone’s lover yet. That man is the ant’s pants, the bee’s knees, the cat’s meow… if you catch my drift.
So you wanna know more? Of course you do, curiosity is a good thing… unless of course it gets you killed, which is what almost happened to me in my first mystery, Buck Baxter, Love Detective. And to whet your appetite for a little more, here’s a taste of what’s to come in my second mystery, Buck Baxter and the Disappearing Divas. Strange things are happening at the Maharaja Majestic Theatre on the eve of its new production, and Stella Starling—my new personal assistant—and I are on the case. Of course, I use the job description ‘personal assistant’ loosely, because it would imply that there’s some ‘assisting’ involved. But Stella bein’ who she is—a three-foot-tall hooker with tiny legs and a big voice—the word ‘assisting’ don’t quite fit the bill. Will we get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding this phantom at the opera… or will it be curtains for me and Stella?
Beyond the skyscrapers of Wilde City, at the lower end of Broadville Boulevard, the Maharaja Majestic Theatre stood like a towering temple from some exotic, far-away land. It’s façade was lined with two dozen thick, marble columns, adorned with sculptures of snakes and sirens, while gigantic cast-iron lanterns hung from the architraves of entrance way. The building rose maybe five stories high, every cornice and cranny crammed with angels and devils, gods and ghosts, all housed under one colossal dome. It was a cultural melting pot, the timeless tales of both east and west converging on a single shrine of storytelling, a mosque of music… and now perhaps, an opera house of horror.
I met Stella on the corner opposite the theatre a few minutes after eleven.
“Glad you could make it,” she tapped her toe impatiently.
“I got a little caught up in something.”
“Or someone, more like it,” she said, crossing her arms. “Next time, your cutesy blond boyfriend can take a number, toots. We got a mystery to solve, capiche?”
“Don’t say capiche again.”
“Why not? I’m half Italian, you know.”
“No you’re not.”
Stella shrugged. “Okay, so maybe I dated a guy once who was half Italian. That counts, don’t it?”
“Okay, so maybe he paid me to date him. Money can sometimes buy some poor schmuck true love, ya know. Capiche?”
I took a deep breath and changed the subject. “Let’s go crack this case.”
The auditorium of the Maharaja Majestic was ritzy to say the least. Plush, red velvet curtains covered the walls on all sides. The seats were ornate, each with a sculpted finish and velvet armrests. Tiered theatre balconies lined both sides of the theatre for patrons with enough money to pay for such exclusive seating.
On the massive stage—in front of the elaborately painted set of an Indian palace—a handful of people stood including Raja Khan. He saw Stella and me and called out to us.
“Ah, Mr. Baxter, Miss Starling, please come and meet the key members of my cast and crew. At least those of them who have arrived so far.”
Stella and I made our way up the stairs at the side of the stage beside the orchestra pit. Stella’s eyes were wide and full of wonder as she gazed all around, taking in every little detail of the dream-like world surrounding us. “Wow, I always wanted to be on the stage,” she whispered to me as we walked the boards toward the others.
“Now’s your big chance,” I whispered back. “Act smooth. Observe every move these people make. Every stutter. Every sneeze. Every sideways glance. Take in everything.”
“Will do, toots.”
“And don’t call me toots in front of them. We’re supposed to be professionals.”
“Will do, t—” She stopped herself and whispered, “Well heck, if I can’t call you toots, what should I call you?”
“How about boss?”
Stella started laughing out loud. “No, I’m serious. What should I call you?”
“Buck will do fine,” I answered through clenched teeth.
We stopped at the small group gathered on the stage. There was one woman and three men, including Raja Khan. The woman was young, thin and pretty, with large doe eyes and ruby-red lips. Her hair was crimped and curled in the latest fashion. Her eyelashes were long, her nose small and her teeth white; she had the unmistakable look of a starlet waiting to be discovered. The man on Raja’s left looked humble and homely, not the kind of theatrical gentleman anyone would expect to find on a stage. His coat was oversized, possibly to make up for his modest frame. His hair was thin and slicked across his scalp to cover his baldness. By contrast, the man on Raja’s right stood tall with pride and a definite arrogance. He wore a black scarf, bowtie and black top hat as though it was already opening night. His moustache was so pencil thin it looked painted on. In his hand he held a long black cigarette holder with a cigarette alight at the end, sending more wisps of smoke into the air than into his lungs, giving me the impression this man—whoever he was—liked his props both on and off the stage.
“Everybody,” Raja began, “I’d like you to meet Mr. Buck Baxter and his assistant Miss Stella Starling. As you all know, last night after rehearsal, our beloved leading lady Miss Dominique Darlington vanished, allegedly kidnapped… or worse.”
“She was a star who shone brighter than no other,” said the man in the top hat in a crisp British accent.
“We couldn’t agree more, Barnabas,” nodded Raja.
“Yet the show must go on!” Barnabas, the man in the top hat, added rather theatrically.
Raja nodded again. “We couldn’t agree more with that, as well. And so it is I’ve asked Mr. Baxter here to investigate Miss Darlington’s disappearance as, well, discreetly as possible, while we continue with rehearsals.”
Barnabas stepped in again, even more dramatically than before. “Opening night is only six days away. Rest assured the curtain will rise. The stage will light up. The audience will stand in ovation!”
Stella leaned toward me and whispered behind her hand, “Sheesh, someone hand that chowderhead Yorick’s skull. He sure loves a monologue!”
If Raja heard her, he ignored it. “Mr. Baxter, Miss Starling, let me introduce you to Barnabas Blake, the director of our show.”
Barnabas eyed us both with one eyebrow raised in suspicion. “I’m sure you’re pleased to make our acquaintance, but do either of you have any experience in the theatre?”
“What’s that got to do with anything?” I asked.
Barnabas cleared his throat, as though he had been asked to cough up the obvious. “The men and women of the theatre are a special breed. Creative. Talented. Sophisticated. Unique. A higher class. There’s nothing common about us. We exist above the great unwashed. Of course, if you’re familiar with our kind, we may consider co-operating. So I’ll ask again, do either of you have any experience in the theatre?”
“No offence, sir,” I answered. “But we’re here to solve a crime, not audition.”
“And if you don’t co-operate,” Stella piped up, “the next stage you walk on might have a noose hangin’ from the rafter and a trapdoor in the floor. You catch my drift?”
“Are you threatening me, little girl?”
“I will if you call me a little girl again, you pompous putz!”
“Settle down,” I said, holding Stella back before she raced over and kicked Barnabas in the shin. I realized then that the second victim in this mystery was going to be my patience. I decided a hit of nicotine was in order. “Mind if I smoke?” I asked Raja.
“Go ahead,” Raja answered. “Our humble director hasn’t stopped smoking since the day he was hired. If fate wanted to shut down this show by burning the place to the ground, it would have done so by now.”
Barnabas’ eyebrows launched up his forehead while his nose twitched and his pencil-thin moustache did an angry little dance. “Oh pah-lease! You’re the one who approved candles for the iron chandelier dangling above the stage in The Dance of the Cobra scene. If that’s not a fire hazard I don’t know what is.”
“Besides, it appears fate has other plans for this show.” The words seemed ominous and came from the meekest voice among us. We all turned to the pretty girl with the large doe eyes. “The disappearance of Miss Darlington, I mean. It seems rather… foreboding.”
Nobody said anything for a moment until Raja took the opportunity to introduce her. “Mr. Baxter, Miss Starling, this is Olivia Overton, Miss Darlington’s understudy.”
She held out her hand rather timidly and dipped her chin demurely. “Pleased to meet you both. I don’t expect I’ll ever be anything but an understudy—I’m currently playing ‘Slavegirl in Blue’ in The Veils of Midnight dance—but perhaps some day I’ll see my name in lights. Well, a girl can dream.”
“Some people are willing to do anything to make their dream come true,” I commented.
Miss Overton caught my meaning and immediately pleaded her innocence. In fact, she almost begged for it. “Oh, Mr. Baxter. I had nothing to do with Miss Darlington’s disappearance, I swear to you. Besides, I’m hardly strong enough to carry away someone like Miss Darlington and just disappear into the night like that.”
She had a point.
She also had a motive.
I needed that smoke now.
I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out my pipe and matches. Oddly enough, I saw out of the corner of my eye Stella reach into her clutch bag and pull out her own pipe and matches. As I lit mine, she lit hers. I noticed everyone looking at us oddly. I shot her a look and pulled her aside, whispering, “What are you doing?”
“Lightin’ a smoke,” Stella shrugged. “You heard Raja. If twinkle-toes in the top hat can light one up, so can I.”
“Since when did you own a pipe?” I whispered a little more harshly.
“Since I bought one at the drugstore on my way here. You didn’t like me smokin’ yours so I got my own. If anyone’s to blame here it’s you. I was happy to share.”
She puffed and I took a sniff. “Is that pot? My pot?”
“Just a teensy bit. You didn’t have much left.”
“We’re on a case. You’re supposed to smoke tobacco at a time like this. Plain old tobacco. You can’t smoke pot now!”
“You smoke it all the time.”
“Not in front of clients.”
Stella put one hand on her hip and held her pipe in the other, talking in between puffs. “See, this is where you need to communicate more. You’re not very good at communicating things, Buck Baxter.”
“That’s because I never had a personal assistant before. And I’m beginning to wonder why I’ve got one now!”
“Because ya love me. Whaddaya need a memo, toots?”
“And don’t call me toots! It’s—”
“Mr. Baxter, is everything alright?” I spun about to see Raja Khan, and the others, staring at us both.
“We’re fine. Just comparing notes.” I quickly made my way back to the group, dragging Stella along behind me. “We’d of course like to talk to everyone individually, but to begin with, we’d like to have a word with the witness to Miss Darlington’s disappearance.”
The homely-looking man in the oversized coat stepped forward. “That would be me. Stanley Small’s the name. I’m the stage manager here at the Maharaja Majestic.”
“Stanley has worked with us for over ten years,” Raja said, “He’s managed all the staging, lighting, props and sets for every show we’ve produced since 1914. I assure you, he’s no killer.”
“With all due respect, Mr. Khan, we’re investigating a disappearance. Nobody said anything about killing,” I said.
“With all due respect, Mr. Baxter,” Stanley interjected in a grave voice. “I saw what happened that night. I saw the attacker strangling Miss Darlington with her feather boa. I saw her body fall into his arms before he vanished. I don’t wanna scare nobody, but she sure looked dead to me. I know Mr. Khan told the police that she’s left town, but wherever Miss Darlington is right now, she ain’t coming back.”
“Bravo!” exclaimed a loud, brash voice from the back of the auditorium. “That’s the best news I’ve heard all week!”
All eyes turned to a tall figure standing at the back of the theatre in the center aisle. Confidently the figure stepped forward into the light, revealing itself to be an immaculately-dressed woman in her early fifties with a silver streak in her raven black hair. She grinned from ear to diamond-studded ear as she strutted down the aisle waving a piece of paper in one hand.
Stepping up onto the stage she announced, “I have here in my hand a telegram from the one and only Signora Aria Valentina direct from Rome. She has agreed to take the next airship from Italy to Wilde City to take over Miss Darlington’s role and star in our production of The Snake Charmer’s Slave!”
“But I thought…” Miss Overton muttered in defeat and disappointment, her words quickly fading to silence.
The woman with the telegram in her hand laughed. “Oh my dear, I know life can be a little over-rated and underwhelming sometimes for someone like you. But the truth is you’re nothing but an understudy, Miss Overton. So live up to your name and get over it.”
“Wow, what a bitch,” Stella muttered loud enough for everyone to hear.
The woman with the telegram spun on her heel and glared at Stella. “And who, may I ask, are you?”
Stella took a breath to say something no doubt offensive, but I jumped in before she could stir the pot anymore. “This is Miss Starling, my assistant. And my name is Buck. Buck Baxter. Private Detective.”
“Serafina Somerset,” the woman introduced herself, apparently with no need—or wish—for a handshake. “Without me none of us would be standing here right now. I’m the show’s investor. I’ve plunged a small fortune into this play.”
“Opera,” Barnabas corrected.
“I’ll call it what I like. I’m the money and don’t you forget it.”
Barnabas grumbled something under his breath. I was beginning to wonder who was gonna win the biggest asshole award in this place, with Barnabas Blake and Serafina Somerset clear front runners at this stage. Then in barreled the last of our suspects.
“Sorry I’m late! I’m always late. I know, I know, I was supposed to be here half an hour ago. But hey, I’m the leading man. It’s not like you can start rehearsals without me.”
Like a handsome steed on show, a tall man with black, slicked-back hair and a chiseled jaw leapt up onto the stage. I glanced around at the reactions to his arrival, all of them varied. Olivia Overton sighed adoringly. Barnabas crossed his arms and drummed his fingers against his forearms. Stanley looked down, obviously intimidated, and drew invisible circles on the floorboards with the toe of his worn-out shoe. Raja checked his fob watch. Serafina clamped her hands on her hips and muttered, “Oh for Pete’s sake. I wonder if Signora Valentina knows a good Signore for hire.”
As the man peacocked his way toward us, smoothing his hair and tightening his tie, Raja made the final introduction. “Mr. Baxter, Miss Starling, please meet Errol Hemingway, the male lead in our show.”
Errol dived into a handshake, firm and vigorous. Yes he was handsome, there was no denying it. Piercing green eyes. A smile so bright I had to blink. It almost distracted me from the fresh lip-print on his shirt. “Pleased to meet you,” he said. “Are you the guy who’s gonna be my new understudy?”
“No,” I said, reclaiming my hand before he shook it clean off. “I’m the guy who’s gonna find out who attacked Miss Darlington last night.”
Errol gasped, his shocked expression more than just a little exaggerated. “Someone attacked Dominique? Is she alright?”
“Oh please,” Stella groaned. “You call yourself an actor?”
“Actually,” Barnabas said, “He’s more of an opera singer than an actor. Voice of an angel. Acting skills of a mule.”
“Hey, you wanna take that backstage?” Errol started rolling up his sleeves.
Barnabas just rolled his eyes. “No, not particularly.”
Errol didn’t quite know where to go from there, seemingly disarmed by his director’s lack of interest in a fight. He rolled his sleeves back down and turned to me with a change of subject. “If you think I had anything to do with Miss Darlington’s disappearance—”
“We’ll be talkin to everyone,” I stopped him point blank. “Individually. In the meantime, with Mr. Khan’s permission of course, we’d like to stay for rehearsal. Take a look around the theatre. Then ask you all a few questions.”
“Of course,” Raja answered before any of his associates could respond. “Please enjoy the rehearsal. Miss Overton will be singing the lead role of Sahla the Snake Charmer’s Slave.”
Olivia’s eyes lit up.
“Until Signora Valentina arrives,” Serafina added curtly.
Olivia’s demure look returned.
“We’ll enjoy watching,” I said. “Everything… and everyone.”
About Buck Baxter and the Disappearing Divas
Something sinister is occurring at the Maharaja Majestic Theatre on Broadville Boulevard. The domineering actress, Dominique Darlington, has vanished without a trace, the opening night of the theatre’s new production of The Snake Charmer’s Slave is now in jeopardy, and six suspects are about to have the pleasure of meeting Buck Baxter, Private Detective, as he investigates whether there’s a killer on the loose… or a phantom at the opera?
Could it be the handsome leading man, Errol Hemingway, who’s responsible for the disappearance of his leading lady… or perhaps it’s that sweet, doe-eyed understudy Olivia Overton? Is it the theatre owner himself, the tall and mysterious Raja Khan who has committed the crime… or the show’s investor, the autocratic aristocrat Serafina Somerset? Or is it possible that the meek and mild stage manager Stanley Small, or the flamboyant and frustrated director Barnabas Blake, is guilty?
And what of Buck’s romance with playboy millionaire Holden Hart? Will Buck get a backstage pass to access all areas of his one true love… or will this be the final curtain for Buck and Holden?
Follow the clues, and you might just solve… the mystery of the disappearing divas!
Coming soon from Wilde City Press!
About Buck Baxter, Love Detective
Welcome to Wilde City, 1924—a crane on top of every skyscraper, a party in every club, a romance on every dance floor, a shooting every night, a broken heart on every street corner and a dirty secret behind every window with the curtain drawn. It’s the kinda town that keeps Buck Baxter, private detective, in business.
For despite his fondness for a cold gin and a pipe stuffed with cannabis, Buck is the best gumshoe in Wilde City. Why? Because he has rules: never make friends, never make enemies, and never ever fall in love. That is until the day playboy nightclub owner Holden Hart swings into town. He’s suave, he’s charming, he’s chivalrous… and he’s exactly the kinda man that Buck will break all the rules for.
From the romance of the Rainbow Palace atop the Wilde City Tower, to the dazzling debauchery of the gentlemen’s parlor The Velvet Viper—from the history surrounding the sinister convent on the hill better known Hell’s Bells, to the lantern-lit opium barge, The Peking Empress, run by the mystical Madame Chang—could Buck be about to unravel the greatest mystery of them all…
The mystery of love?
Available at: Wilde City Press and Amazon
About Geoffrey Knight
From palace-hopping across the Rajasthan Desert to sleeping in train stations in Bulgaria, from spinning prayer-wheels in Kathmandu to exploring the skull-gated graveyards of the indigenous Balinese tribes, Geoffrey Knight has been a traveller ever since he could scrape together enough money to buy a plane ticket. Born in Melbourne but raised and educated in countless cities and towns across Australia, Geoffrey was a nomadic boy who grew into a nomadic gay writer. When he’s not travelling the world, Geoffrey is travelling the world of his imagination—where the adventures, thrills and romance are limitless.
He currently owns his own advertising and design agency which he runs from his island home on the Great Barrier Reef, and can’t wait to buy his next plane ticket—whether it’s real or imaginary.
Geoffrey Knight is the author of over 25 gay fiction novels, novellas and short stories. For more information, visit his website at www.geoffreyknightwrites.com.
Geoff has graciously offered up an eBook copy of Buck Baxter, Love Detective to one lucky winner!! The giveaway starts now and ends September 26, 2014 at 11:59 p.m. To enter, just click the link below!
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Don’t forget to check out Heather C’s review of Buck Baxter, Love Detective to see what she thought of it!