"Brucie?" said Jill Monteiro, director of the Prescott Players. "Could we have that line again?"
"'Do not vorry, my little Gretel,'" Brucie said. "'All vill be vell.'"
Jill gazed at him for a moment, her dark eyes thoughtful. "Ah," she said. "That would be a German accent?"
"Jawohl, Kommandant," said Brucie.
"Hansel being German," Jill said.
Brucie clicked his heels.
"Interesting," said Jill.
"Oh, dear," said Sylvia Breen, cast as the witch but in real life assistant head teller at Central State Savings and Loan. "I'm no good at accents. No good at all."
"You see the problem, Brucie," Jill said.
"Nein," said Brucie.
"Either everybody does a German accent or nobody," she said.
"Completely hopeless," said Mrs. Breen.
"So we're gonna take a vote?" Brucie said.
Ingrid Levin-Hill, sitting on a stool beside Mrs. Breen, script in her hand and all Gretel's lines underlined in red, saw that Brucie's right leg was doing that twitchy thing. Ingrid loved being in the Prescott Players, loved this beautiful little theater in Prescott Hall, loved everything about putting on plays—especially working with Jill. Jill was a real actress: She'd been in a Hollywood movie, Tongue and Groove, where she'd said, "Make it a double," to the Eugene Levy character with this wicked look in her eye, best moment in the movie, in Ingrid's opinion. She'd watched the video many times—the only way anyone had ever seen the movie, since there'd been no actual theatrical release. Working with Jill was a privilege.
But working with Brucie? Ingrid had known Brucie most of her life. They had the very same birthday, a disturbing fact. She remembered Brucie on the playground, one of those kids—the only one, in her experience—who never tired of making himself dizzy. Now Brucie was the eighth-grade class clown at Ferrand Middle, taken seriously by no one. Until recently: about a month before, in fact, when his Xmas Revue performance of the wizard, in the scene where Oz is revealed to be a fraud, brought down the house—even though it wasn't supposed to be funny, and in rehearsal Brucie had missed every cue and botched his lines. But something had happened in the live performance, something that had prompted Mr. Samuels, editor and publisher of the Echo Falls Echo, to write in his "Arts, Entertainment, and Things to Do" column: "Do not miss the hilarious youngster Bruce Berman as the wizard like you've never seen him." Brucie carried the clipping in his pocket.
"I make a motion," he said, "zat ve do German accents."
The cast—Ingrid; Mrs. Breen; Meredith O'Malley (playing the woodcutter's wife), who looked a bit like Marilyn Monroe if Marilyn had reached middle age and let herself go; and the woodcutter, Mr. Santos, of Santos Texaco, who did a great wiseguy voice—all waited for Jill's reaction.
"Who vill second ze motion?" said Brucie.
Jill turned to him. "Know what I'm afraid of, Brucie?" she said.
"Grizzly bears?" said Brucie.
Jill blinked, a single blink, long and slow. Ingrid had never seen her do that before; for just a second, Jill didn't seem to be enjoying herself. "I'm afraid," she said, "of any additional little touch that might tip us into parody."
"Huh?" said Brucie.
"Parody," said Jill. "Like Monty Python and the Holy Grail."
"Monty Python?" said Brucie. "Three thumbs up." He got off his stool, pranced around the stage, making clip-clop sounds and banging imaginary coconuts to-gether. "Python rules." Ingrid's best friend, Stacy, would have smacked him; Ingrid herself came close.
"Siddown," said Mr. Santos.
Brucie skidded to a stop and sat.
"Decisions like this always come back to understanding what the story is about," said Jill.
"These two kids get kicked out of the house," said Mr. Santos.
"And meet up with a witch who lures them with a gingerbread house," said Meredith O'Malley.
"Don't forget the bread crumbs," said Mrs. Breen.
"You're giving me the plot," Jill said. "But what's it about? That's the root of everything we're going to do with this play." Jill was back to normal. She had a lovely, expressive face; even under the dim houselights it was shining.
"Kids on their own," Ingrid said.
Jill nodded. "Kids on their own," she said. "Yes—and deep in a dark and dangerous place."
"Ooo," said Meredith, in her breathy voice. "I just got a shiver."
"So—vote or no vote?" said Brucie.
Ingrid stood alone outside Prescott Hall—a huge old mansion with lots of towers and gargoyles, now mostly hidden by scaffolding. She waited for her ride. Nothing unusual about that: Mom and Dad had busy lives, were often late. Meanwhile a gray squirrel was running through the snow, a fast squirrel that kicked up tiny white puffs. Hey—it didn't really run, more like bounded along, the hind paws landing first. How come she'd never noticed that before? Like Sherlock Holmes, her favorite fictional character by far, Ingrid made a habit of observing small details. She took a close look at its tracks. Most were blurred because of how fast it had been going, but she found one clear set—the hind paws, landing first, had five toes; the front paws, actually landing behind, only four. People had the same number of fingers and toes, so why would—
She turned, saw Dad's TT parked in the circular drive behind her. The window slid down. "Ingrid," Dad called, "I honked three times."
Ingrid got in the car. It smelled of Dad's aftershave—a nice smell. "You really didn't hear me?" he said.
"Got your head in the clouds these days," he said.
And you've been crabby for months. But Ingrid didn't say it. Dad worked hard—he was vice president at the Ferrand Group, and Ingrid was starting to understand that Mr. Ferrand was a pretty demanding boss. In good light now, on days like this, for example, she could see tiny lines at the corners of Dad's eyes; but still the handsomest dad in Echo Falls.
"How was rehearsal?" he said.
Excerpted from Into the Dark by Peter Abrahams Copyright © 2008 by Peter Abrahams. Excerpted by permission.
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