"Apparently being Artistic Director is bad for your health," said Geoffrey, staring at the receiver in his hand as if he didn't know quite what to do with it now that it had gone silent. Hell, he hadn't really known what to do with it before that, either.
"What was that?" mumbled Ellen around the hairpin in her mouth. "Who was on the phone?"
"Richard Smith-Jones," he said, letting out an awkward and brief burst of laughter.
"Oh God," said Ellen, spitting the pin out into her hand with more force than was necessary. "What did he want? Did you tell him where to go?"
"We didn't get that far into the conversation," said Geoffrey, still staring at the phone. "In fact, we didn't say much at all."
"What?" said Ellen impatiently as she pinned up a chunk of her hair. "What is it, Geoff? We're going to be late."
"Darren Nichols is dead."
New Burbage hadn't changed in the three years since they'd last seen it, in the side view mirror of a one-way U-Haul headed out of town. Even the trees, the people, the hand-lettered signs in the shops looked the same. They might as well have just gone for a weekend getaway for all the place had changed in their absence.
"It's not too late to turn back," said Ellen, fixing her lipstick in the passenger side mirror and smacking her lips together. "We could probably make it back home before dark."
"I told Richard we would be there."
"So?" said Ellen. "Since when have you cared about lying to Richard? We could say we had car trouble. Couldn't make it. So sorry. Hope the caterer was good."
"No, no," said Geoffrey, despite the fact that turning around and going home sounded like just about the best idea he'd heard since Richard's fateful phone call. "We're already here, we might as well stay for the service."
"We could fake food poisoning," suggested Ellen. "Nobody ever wants to hear the details of that."
"At the very least it will be entertaining," said Geoffrey. "He probably asked for a parade, stipulated it in his will. With acrobats, and man-eating tigers."
"Well thank God you don't have to worry about it this time," said Ellen. "I still don't know how you pulled off Oliver's final request."
"Hmm," said Geoffrey without answering. "I should pay him a visit while we're here."
"Oh don't start with this again," said Ellen, nearly dropping her lipstick in her lap. "I thought we'd seen the last of it when we left this town behind us."
"No, Ellen, I don't mean talk to him," said Geoffrey, "I mean--" He took one hand off the wheel and mimed holding a skull in his palm. "What's left of him."
"Oh," said Ellen. "That."
From the look on her face, Geoffrey decided a change of subject was probably in order before she started in on his past sins. "We've got some time before we need to be at the theatre," he said. "How about we drive past some of the old haunts? Take a little trip down memory lane?"
"Why, so I can burst into tears when I realise that there are grubby little children living in my house and pink flamingos on the lawn?"
"Oh, I don't think there'll be tears," said Geoffrey, taking an abrupt right and heading down a side street towards the river. "I can't say anything about the grubby little children."
"Geoffrey!" said Ellen. "Memory lane isn't a meandering trail through the countryside, it's... broken asphalt full of potholes and barbed wire and... and madmen wielding knives!"
Geoffrey silently took two lefts and a right and started for the theatre again. He wasn't sure it would do much good, though; this whole town was rife with memory lanes.
If the town hadn't changed at all, it was apparently because the theatre had changed enough for both of them. Oh, it looked the same, there hadn't been some ill-advised renovation project replacing the stage with a carousel, but it had changed all right, and anyone who'd spent as much time in that theatre as Geoffrey had knew it the moment he stepped through the doors.
"It's creepy," said Ellen, rubbing her arms as though she'd caught a chill. "Can you believe I spent the best years of my life here?"
"I thought these were the best years of your life."
"Oh, you know what I mean," she said. "It's like it's not the same place at all."
Oliver's wasn't the only ghost that haunted Geoffrey when he walked through the theatres of New Burbage. Every time he turned a corner he expected to see Anna or Cyril or Jerry, people who had been fixtures of the theatre he had known. Instead there were strangers in their place, faces Geoffrey hardly recognised and names that didn't ring a bell.
"Geoffrey. Thank God."
Geoffrey whirled around to see who it was before he chose whether to grimace or smile.
"Maria," he breathed with considerable relief as she neatly dodged between two apparent refugees from Pirates of Penzance to arrive at his side. "They dragged you back too?"
"Kicking and screaming," she said. "I drove up from Stratford this morning. So tell me, do you know how he died? Because either no one knows, or no one's talking."
"Something about a feather hat, a marionette, and a length of 20-lb. cabling," said Geoffrey. "I'm not quite clear on the details, but I believe they're calling it a 'scenery malfunction'."
"Hello, Maria," interrupted Ellen with a strained smile.
"Right, then," said Geoffrey, clapping his hands together and interrupting their charming reunion.
Ellen just shot him a Look, capital L. "All right, where can we hide for the next three hours until we have to show our faces for the spectacle that will be Darren Nichols' memorial?"
"There are already a pack of apprentices behind the stage," said Maria grimly. "I checked. But I do have this." She reached into her pocket and triumphantly pulled out a single key. "As long as they haven't changed the locks to the costume shop we might be in luck."
"I'll take a maybe over the certainty of children any day," said Ellen. "What are they, ten?"
"Whatever they are, they're grubby and they smell funny," said Maria, leading the way through the back corridors and carefully avoiding anywhere there was likely to be someone who remembered them. "Though they did seem to have liquor."
"Yes, well, I would imagine most people will today," said Ellen. "I know I plan to. Preferably before I have to sit through a quartet of yodelers singing the praises of Darren Nichols."
"There are yodelers?" said Geoffrey.
"I would not be surprised."
The costume shop, unfortunately, was neither locked nor empty upon their arrival. Nor was it also inhabited by a pack of unwashed actors seeking to avoid what promised to be a festival of bad taste. In fact, it seemed to be in use for exactly what it was meant to be used for.
"Do you mind?"
"Watch your step!"
"Geoffrey," Ellen hissed at him, grabbing hold of his arm. "There are little people in here."
"Yes, I see that," he hissed back, giving them all a strained smile. "Sorry, we were just--"
"Looking for something appropriate to wear," Maria interrupted him with forced gusto, grabbing Geoffrey by the arm and leading them through the suspicious and slightly disgruntled group. "Excuse us, coming through."
"We can't stay!" Ellen hissed again. "We need to get out of here."
"Nonsense," said Geoffrey. "Maria has a plan. Don't you, Maria?"
"This was my plan. I forgot about the munchkins. Look busy."
"Munchkins?" said Geoffrey, pawing through a rack of Victorian gowns. If there ever was anyplace they would find something appropriate to wear to Darren Nichols' memorial service, this was it. "Is that what we're supposed to call them now?"
"For the Wizard of Oz," said Maria. "Darren was directing it this season for the Swan. Though God knows why they're doing fittings now."
"You don't think they're using them in the service, do you?" said Ellen.
"Oh dear God," said Geoffrey, "we're doomed."
"Do you mind?" someone jeered from nearby. "Some of us are trying to get some work done here."
"The Mayor of Munchkinland speaks," said Ellen.
"Okay, this is ridiculous," said Geoffrey. "I need to find Richard before he finds me. Maria, it was lovely to see you again. You two just... stay here. I'll find you before the service starts."
"Geoffrey, you can't just leave me here!"
"Well, would you rather come find Richard with me?"
Ellen glared at him but his point was well taken, and a moment later he was off.
Richard's office was an intimidating mix of bureaucracy and kitsch, but at least it was better than Darren's which, from the glance Geoffrey got through the window as he passed, was decorated with reproduction tapestries and suicidal puppets.
Geoffrey tapped lightly on the door then peeked his head in, fully expecting it to be empty. It was not.
"Geoffrey," said Richard without preamble. "I need your help."
It certainly wasn't the reception that Geoffrey had been expecting.
"Are you sure?" he said. "Do you remember what happened the last time someone involved with this festival said those words to me?"
"Technically speaking, I don't think anyone ever actually said that."
"Well, it was implied," said Geoffrey. He certainly would never have ended up where he had been, in any sense, without a true act of desperation on the part of the festival. "Just what exactly do you need my help with this time?"
"Oh no," said Geoffrey. "No, no and no. I don't have a single kind word to say about Darren Nichols and I don't have the time to make something convincing up."
"I'm not going to put you on stage again," said Richard, "I'm not crazy." His eyes strayed to some point past Geoffrey's shoulder and he didn't miss a beat. "No, I'm not crazy, and I'm fairly certain I can get at least a dozen people to certify that. No.. no... no... oh, I think you know a lot more about crazy than I do."
"Yes, well, most people are too polite to point that out," said Geoffrey warily, "even if it happens to be true."
Richard shook his head and looked very deliberately at the door for a moment before meeting Geoffrey's eyes again. "Look, this whole thing is turning into bit of a fiasco. I've got munchkins. On stage. During a funeral. In fact, I think they're planning to perform a musical number."
"Yes, I've met the munchkins," said Geoffrey. "I'm not sure what you want me to do about it, Richard. And furthermore, I'm not sure why you think I will."
"Well... you're Geoffrey Tennant," said Richard beseechingly. "People like you. They'll do what you ask them to."
Geoffrey's credulity was strained to the absolute limit. "Have you been drinking?"
"Only a little," said Richard. "And wouldn't you, if this whole thing were your responsibility. No, I do not drink too much, and at least I don't drink the ones with umbrellas."
"You work in the theatre," said Geoffrey. "Of course you drink too much, but that's beside the point. Richard, you asked me to come, and here I am. What more do you expect of me?"
"Will you come backstage and see what you can do to keep this from becoming a disaster?" Geoffrey shook his head vehemently. "Well, will you at least look at the program? Please, Geoffrey? You always were the idea man and I was--"
"Just following orders?"
"You know what I mean, Geoffrey."
Geoffrey finally took pity on him; it had nothing at all to do with the flattery. Plus, getting the dancing munchkins off the stage was a cause worth his time. "All right," he said. "I will meet you at the stage and go over the program for the service. But that is all."
"Thank you, Geoffrey," said Richard, with what appeared to be overblown, but genuine, gratitude.
"But first I need to save Ellen from the munchkins," Geoffrey went on. "And Jesus, Richard, breathe. You've done this before."
"Everything's different now," said Richard.
There were so very many ways he might have meant that. Hell, maybe he meant them all. Frankly, Geoffrey couldn't agree more.
Ellen and Maria were no longer in the costume shop, though the munchkins seemed to have multiplied in the interim. Ellen he tracked down to the parking lot. Maria was nowhere to be found.
"So did you find him?" she asked, blowing a stream of smoke to the side of his face.
"Oh, Richard?" he said. "He was in his office, and completely losing his shit over this whole thing. Seriously, Ellen, I've never seen anything quite like it. Halfway through the conversation he kept breaking off to rant at the wall."
"Yes, well, you used to look like that too, Geoffrey," she said, huffing smoke. "Maybe running this festival drives everyone crazy."
"Yes, but I was talking to--" Geoffrey started, then abruptly stopped.
"Yes, I know all about that," said Ellen. "You were terrifying, Geoffrey, ranting like a madman. No offence."
"Yes, well I wasn't just ranting like a madman," said Geoffrey, and wondered if the reason he hadn't seen Oliver since Lear wasn't because Oliver had moved on, but because he hadn't. "Anyway, Richard was... I'm just going to help him with a couple of things."
"It'll only take a few minutes, Ellen! Five minutes with me and he'll remember why he likes running the festival by himself so much."
"So what am I supposed to do?"
"What you always do, Ellen," he said, "whatever that might be."
"I'm not going back in there," she insisted, waving her cigarette in the general direction of the building. "Wild horses couldn't drag me, Geoffrey. It's a madhouse in there. It's mad!"
"It's always been mad. It's the theatre."
"I can't," she said. "I just can't, Geoffrey."
"Well, that's fine," he said. "You go get Chinese food and I'll call you when it's time to take our seats."
"Do you mean that?"
"Why wouldn't I mean that?"
"It's some sort of trick, isn't it?" she said. "I go for Chinese food and something terrible will happen. You'll leave me here in this godforsaken town."
"It's not a trick, Ellen. I need to meet Richard by the stage in--" He looked at his watch. "--now, and you can do whatever it is you need to do until the service starts."
"I knew it," she said, " it's a trick. All right, I'll find a place to sit down. Maybe I'll even find someone who's actually serving coffee and not the happy fairy bubble juice that everyone else seems to have had."
Geoffrey finally gave up, and just nodded and smiled. "Yes, thank you," he said. "And now I'm going back inside, where I actually feel saner. I'll call you when things are straightened out."
"You had better," she said, and lit another cigarette moments after grinding the last beneath her heel.
"Geoffrey. Thank God."
Geoffrey could get used to being back in New Burbage if everyone was going to greet him that way.
"Yes, I am here, as promised. Now what is it you think I can do, Richard?"
"Well, tell me what to do!" he said. "I've got everything carefully planned and written down and no one's paying the slightest bit of attention to it. And apparently Darren made arrangements with some sort of mime troop years ago, on the event of his untimely death, and they just... showed up, this morning." He paused a moment, then added. "You did what?"
"I didn't say anything."
"No, not you," said Richard. "Where the hell do you think I'm going to find flying monkeys?"
God, Geoffrey really hoped he hadn't looked like that when he'd been the one with the invisible companion.
"Is there even such a thing as a flying monkey?"
It was a few moments before Geoffrey realised that Richard was waiting for an answer. "Are you talking to me?"
"Do you see anybody else in here?"
Geoffrey very deliberately looked from side to side, in case there was, but though there were certainly other people backstage there was no one visible that Richard could have been talking to other than him.
"No," he said finally, "there is no such thing as flying monkeys."
"See?" said Richard, then sighed and rubbed his forehead with the heels of both hands.
Geoffrey waited a moment, then asked in a low voice, confidentially. "Richard... are you talking to Oliver?"
"Oliver?" said Richard, his hands falling and his head shooting up to meet Geoffrey's eyes. "Why the hell would I be talking to Oliver?"
"Well, I just thought--"
"I'm talking to Darren."
"Oh dear God."
For all Geoffrey had a litany of complaints about his time with Oliver as an irregular companion, he suddenly realised it could have been so, so much worse.
"I mean--" said Richard and shook his head. "Forget it. It's the stress. It's getting to me."
"Is he here right now?"
"You mean you think he's actually... here?" said Richard warily.
"Well you just said that he was, Richard. Is he talking to you right now?"
"Christ, the only person who believes me is a certified madman," said Richard, hanging his head again. "If that's not evidence I'm cracking up, I don't know what is."
"In all fairness," said Geoffrey, "I haven't been mad in quite some time. What's he saying?"
"He's saying not to let you ruin his final production," said Richard, sounding profoundly defeated. "And he wants flying monkeys."
"Yes, well, we can slap some wings on someone in a gorilla costume and call it done," said Geoffrey. He could only imagine what Darren was saying to that. "Do we really have mimes?"
"Twelve of them," said Richard grimly. "Apparently they have a whole performance worked out. I had to promise to supply them with flaming batons just to get them out of my office. Which reminds me--" He patted down all of his pockets, twice, then groaned and swore under his breath. "Nahum still has my keys."
"Flaming batons?" said Geoffrey. "Do I really want to know?"
"No, and neither did I," said Richard. "I need to get my keys back. Have you seen Nahum?"
"Not in about, oh, three years," said Geoffrey. "If he's trying to get them back to you, he's probably gone to your office."
"You're going to have to come with me," said Richard, already heading off in that direction.
"Why?" said Richard. "Because we aren't finished. You haven't told me how to get this circus back under control yet. You're the one who knows how to deal with actors."
"What makes you think I can?" said Geoffrey, jogging a few steps to catch up. "I couldn't even get my last production under control, and we were paying them." He paused a moment. "You aren't paying the mimes, are you?"
"God I hope not," said Richard. "It'll have to come out of petty expenses and we're already stretched to the limit with the munchkins and the barbershop quartet."
"Darren discovered an appreciation for them during these last few weeks. The cast thought it might be a nice gesture."
"Oh God, it's turned into a complete disaster," Richard burst out. "All of it."
"The memorial? Well, it's Darren, did we really expect anything else?"
"No, everything. The festival."
"What are you talking about? I though the festival was making record profits?"
"We are!" said Richard. "The board's ready to give me anything I want. They let me be in a play! Who thought that was a good idea?"
"Well, were you any good?"
"I was terrible! The critics ate me alive!"
"Yes, critics tend to do that," agreed Geoffrey. "Often it doesn't matter whether you were any good or not."
"Well, I wasn't," said Richard. "And Darren wasn't any help." He gave the space next to Geoffrey a surreptitious glance. "Oh, shut up."
Geoffrey pretended he didn't hear that bit. "Suddenly I remember exactly why I left," he said. As if he had ever forgotten.
The one thing Geoffrey didn't expect when walking up to the administrative desk of the New Burbage Theatre Festival was to be struck square in the forehead with a ball of rolled up paper. Twice.
"Oh God, sorry, I was aiming for the garbage can."
Geoffrey stared pointedly at the garbage can right next to her.
"The one in Richard's office."
"Right," said Geoffrey. "Of course you were."
"Grace!" said Richard, obviously recognising the offender. "Where the hell have you been? The service starts in two hours."
"Traffic," she said, already balling another piece of paper. Geoffrey discreetly moved out of the line of fire. "I'm still early, right?"
"You're not early," said Richard. "You were supposed to be here first thing this morning! Do you have any idea how much work goes into arranging a memorial service?"
"When my grandmother died, the funeral home took care of everything," she said. "Why didn't you do that?"
"This isn't your grandmother," said Richard, "this is somebody important. We'll probably have more people at the memorial than at closing night of The Merchant of Venice."
"There were a lot of people there," she said. "I had to help find room for them all."
"Yes, that's the point," said Richard, "and half of these ones are going to be German."
"Ah," said Geoffrey, comprehension dawning. "This is your new assistant."
"She's a temp," said Richard, which of course explained everything, in Richard's head. "Grace, have you seen Nahum? Have you talked to the stage manager? Have you done anything since you got here?"
Grace gestured at the pile of paperwork in front of her. Geoffrey suspected it was the one she had been crumpling into balls and tossing at Richard's door. "These are all processed," she said.
"Well that's just fantastic, Grace, but we have a memorial to organise? And time waits for no man."
"Just ask Darren," Geoffrey supplied.
Richard gave him a dirty look, then gave the spot next to him a dirty look. Geoffrey wasn't sure which one amused him more.
"I'm pretty sure arranging funerals isn't in my job description."
"You're my assistant," said Darren. "Your entire job description is to assist me. Now have you or have you not seen Nahum?"
"I have not," she said. "Oh, but there were some people looking for you? I think. I'm not sure. They didn't say anything at all, they just looked in your office."
"It must have been Darren's mimes," said Richard. "Are you sure they didn't say anything?"
"Well.... they're mimes," said Grace, staring at him blankly.
Three years after Geoffrey had left the festival in disgrace, and he had to wonder just how many assistants Richard had gone through in that time that he was stuck with this Grace person.
"Bloody mimes," Richard muttered. "Come on, Geoffrey, let's get out of here and try someplace else. And will you... do something, Grace? Please?"
"The dressing rooms," said Geoffrey, eager to put this to an end. "I can just imagine the state they're in right now with the... unique variety of performers that have been invited. Nahum will be having a field day."
He was not at all surprised by the crumpled paper ball that landed at their heels as they left, just shy of hitting Richard's back.
They didn't find Nahum in any of the dressing rooms, but they did find a nearly full bottle of whiskey. Geoffrey looked at it, then at Richard, then at the bottle again.
"How badly to you really need to find those flaming batons?"
"Screw the mimes," said Richard, and made a dive for it.
They didn't even make it out of the dressing room, wedging a chair under the door and sitting on the floor, their backs against the dressing table, passing the whiskey back and forth between them.
"You know what we should do?" said Richard. "We should do everything he didn't want us to do. Wouldn't that piss him right off?"
"He's dead, Richard. I don't think he gets pissed off about very much anymore."
"You'd be surprised," said Richard. "Death hasn't shut him up."
"Is he at least dressing better?"
"You really, really don't want to know what he's being buried in."
"It can't be any worse than what I saw him in when he was alive."
"Careful," said Richard, looking furtively from side to side before taking a sip of the whiskey, "he might take that as a challenge."
"Is he here?" Geoffrey asked him. "Right now?"
Richard shook his head, but Geoffrey knew the look in his eyes, even blurred with whiskey as it was. It was the look of a man who expected an unwelcome visitor at any moment.
"How did it all go wrong, Geoffrey?"
"You're asking me? Are you sure you want me to answer that?"
"I do," said Richard, with drunken earnestness. "I really do. Everything was supposed to go so right after you were gone."
"Flattery will get you everywhere," muttered Geoffrey. "Richard, the thing you have to understand about New Burbage is that we were really good at one thing. We were really good, Richard. And you don't do that thing anymore."
"We still do Shakespeare," insisted Richard. "It's not like we've stopped."
"You put on Shakespeare that's been pre-interpreted, pre-designed and pre-packaged," said Geoffrey. "When's the last time you did anything new, Richard? When's the last time you did anything that inspired anybody?"
"New doesn't sell, Geoffrey."
"Is that the only thing that matters to you, Richard? Making more money than anybody else?"
"It's what matters to the board," said Richard. "It's what matters to the investors."
"Then let me spell it out for you, Richard," said Geoffrey. "People come to New Burbage because of the reputation. They come because for decades before you came on board we put on some of the best shows in Canada, we attracted the best actors, the best directors, and we performed some of the greatest works of theatre ever written. It was that reputation that gave us room to perform popular entertainment alongside it, and the profit from the popular entertainment gave us room to do more classic works. They work in symbiosis, Richard. Without one or the other, without quality, everything eventually falls apart."
"I can't believe you can use symbiosis in a sentence when you're drunk."
"You're going to wake up one day and Stratford will have become the premier theatre festival in Canada, and New Burbage will fade into obscurity."
"Wow, don't hold anything back, Geoffrey," said Richard. "Tell me how you really feel."
"You did ask," said Geoffrey, grabbing for the whiskey.
"So how am I supposed to fix it then? What am I supposed to do?"
"Well, you could start by never acting again," said Geoffrey. "That would help."
Richard hung his head in his hands. "We've become a joke!" he admitted. "We can't get any of the actors we want this season. We've had to increase salaries along with our profits to keep the regular company. And you should see the articles they've been writing."
"I have," said Geoffrey. Now was not the time to mention that he kept a scrapbook. "But hey, you're making record profits, right? So at least the people are still coming."
"People come to Disney World, too," said Richard. "There are people in giant mouse and dog costumes at Disney World, Geoffrey. Mouse and dog costumes!"
"Well you're the one who runs this place, Richard! If you don't like the way things are going, change them. It wouldn't be the first time."
"You know," said Richard after a moment, "the position of Artistic Director has suddenly come vacant again...."
"I am currently experiencing a tremendous sense of déjà vu," said Geoffrey, closing his eyes and laughing bitterly at the ceiling.
"You can't tell me you don't want to come back, Geoffrey," insisted Richard. "Your little theatre in Montreal - what was it called again? - it can't be more fulfilling than being Artistic Director of the New Burbage Festival of Shakespeare and... Other Stuff."
"Ohhhh yes it can," said Geoffrey. "There are so many things I'd find more fulfilling than coming back to New Burbage. Collecting garbage, for instance. Waiting tables. Writing bad poetry on restroom walls."
"You don't mean that."
"Every word of it," said Geoffrey.
"Well, I don't blame you," conceded Richard. "The job's cursed."
"Cursed?" said Geoffrey. "The job is cursed?"
"Well, think about it," said Richard. "First Oliver, then you, then Darren...."
"I'd like to point out that I am still alive," said Geoffrey, reaching for the whiskey. "'Moving to Montreal' is not a euphemism."
"You abruptly left the festival, just like them," said Richard. "It's the same thing."
"It's not the same to me."
"Hell, maybe I'm hallucinating you, too. Maybe you are dead." Geoffrey slapped him across the face. "Ow!"
"I'm not dead, Richard," he said. "Hell, I'm not even sitting still."
"What are we doing, Geoffrey?"
"I," said Geoffrey, "am finishing the whiskey. You, I believe, are having an existential crisis. Which always tends to go better with alcohol."
"You're right," said Richard. Geoffrey offered him the last few drops in the bottle. "No, not about the alcohol. Well, about the alcohol too. But about being the one to change things. I am in charge here. I call the shots. I am master of my destiny!"
"Whatever you say, Richard," said Geoffrey, swallowing the last few drops himself.
"We just need to get through this memorial then you and me, we can put it all back together again, just like before."
"Honestly, Richard, I just want to get this over with and go home."
"Well, you can do that too," said Richard, stumbling uncertainly to his feet, "but either way, the memorial must go on. Come on, let's go get those fucking flaming batons."
"I've got it!" said Geoffrey, finally managing to work the doorknob and pushing his way into the storage room, Richard stumbling in behind him. "Huh, it wasn't even locked. Who knew?"
Of course, it probably wasn't locked because they were not, in fact, stumbling into an unoccupied room as they'd expected. On the couch that Geoffrey had once claimed as his own there sat three men. Or rather, there sat one man and two people Geoffrey thought he would never see again.
He looked at Richard, then at the trio, then at Richard again when it became apparent that he was not the only one witnessing this spectacle.
"Oh God, are we really this drunk?"
"There is not enough whiskey in the world," said Geoffrey, staring in disbelief.
To one side of Nahum sat Oliver Welles, looking exactly as he had the last time Geoffrey had seen him. To the other side sat the ghost of Darren Nichols.
"He's in my spot," said Oliver sullenly, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Your spot?" said Darren. "Your spot? Shouldn't you have taken up residence with a harem of cabana boys behind the pearly gates by now?"
"You are both dead," said Nahum. "You should both have moved on."
"How can I move on when they're making a mockery of my memorial?" said Darren. "Have you seen what they've done?"
"Oh, who cares," said Oliver. "At least they remember you."
"The mimes are supposed to be in leather. Leath-er."
"Oh, screw your mimes," said Oliver, rolling his eyes. "And they called me a hack."
"Oh dear God," said Geoffrey, edging towards them warily as though one wrong move would upset the delicate balance of the moment. Richard showed no such caution, stumbling towards them full tilt.
This wasn't exactly what Geoffrey had in mind when he said he wanted to say hi to Oliver while he was there.
"Ah, there you are," said Nahum, looking over when Richard knocked over about a half dozen swords. He reached into his pocket and held out a set of keys on a CN Tower keyring. "You are going to need these."
"Nahum," said Geoffrey, his eyes never straying from Oliver. "It's good to see you again."
"Hello, Geoffrey," he said. "It is good to see you too. Have you come back for Darren's memorial service?"
"Ah, the Prodigal Son returns," said Darren. "Have you come to save the theatre from itself again, Geoffrey? That does seem to be your thing, does it not?"
"I'm just here to see you off, Darren," he said. "You will be leaving, won't you?"
"Yes, unlike some people, I don't intend to spend my entire afterlife in this godforsaken place. I just have some loose ends to tie up before I venture into the great beyond."
"Oh, just you wait," said Oliver. "Sure right now you think oh, you'll just fix this and this and this and you'll be done with it. Then six years later you've got a whole new list to tackle. It never ends."
"Oh believe me, it ends," said Darren. "Everything ends. Even Darren Nichols ends."
"You know what would be great?" said Geoffrey. "If this ended. Right now."
"You should be at the theatre," said Nahum, standing up to give Richard his keys. "There is a lot for you to do."
"Yes, like putting together my final triumphant production?" said Darren. "I left very explicit instructions. Even an idiot could follow them."
"You left instructions for your memorial?" said Geoffrey.
"Well of course I did. Man is mortal, Geoffrey," said Darren. "Everybody dies. We should at least have a say in how we're remembered after we do."
"And you two," said Nahum firmly, "have somewhere else to be too."
Darren looked huffy, but a moment later he stalked into a set piece for Macbeth and vanished. Oliver took another moment, then finally gave Geoffrey an acknowledging nod and followed.
"What the fuck was that?" said Geoffrey when they were gone.
"They are very upset," said Nahum. "They do not like sharing the theatre."
"They don't like sharing the theatre?" said Geoffrey. "They don't like it?"
"Wait, so he's real?" said Richard, finally speaking up. "Darren is real?"
"For certain values of real," said Geoffrey. "If you're asking if the rest of us just witnessed the same conversation as you did, however, then the answer is yes. Assuming that your conversation had nothing to do with, oh, cheerleading, or cheese."
"Never mind," said Geoffrey. "I'm sobering up entirely too fast, and we still have a bloody memorial to get through. Frankly, I think I would rather spend the afternoon at back-to-back performances of Oklahoma and Cats."
"It is not about you," said Nahum.
"The memorial service is not about you," he said. "It is about Darren."
Geoffrey chewed on that one for a moment, first making to protest then grudgingly admitting the truth of it. The relief of said admission was something akin to encouraging a small elephant to come down off his shoulders. If he believed that for once it really was all about Darren, then he no longer had to care.
"You know what?" he said finally. "It doesn't matter if this memorial is a complete disaster or not. It's what he wanted."
"And it must be what everyone else wants too," said Richard. "After all, at least half of them are in tights. Voluntarily."
"There, now you see," said Nahum. "All you have to do is let them do it."
"God," said Geoffrey, holding his head between his hands for a moment. "You know, good for Darren, I'm glad he's getting what he wants one last time. But wow do I want to go home right now."
"Then go," said Nahum. "Why are you still here? You could have gone home all along, but you chose to stay."
"I couldn't just leave," said Geoffrey. "There were, uh, things... that I needed to...."
"What things?" said Nahum. "I knew you, Geoffrey. I remember that you did not like Darren Nichols."
"Yes, okay, I thought Darren was an idiot," admitted Geoffrey. "I'm not sure that's the point."
"Perhaps then you came back for some reason other than Darren Nichols," said Nahum. "Sometimes the journey is more important than the destination."
Geoffrey wasn't actually sure what parts of this day had been the journey and what parts had been the destination, but he found himself nodding regardless. What he did know was what he did not want to do, now that he had been through it all, which was attend Darren Nichols' memorial service.
"You're right," he said. "You're absolutely right. And I think my journey is about to take me back east again."
"Wait, you're leaving?" said Richard. "You're leaving now?"
"Well, I think I'm going to get a cup of coffee first, and possibly find my wife, but otherwise yes," said Geoffrey. "I'm leaving right now."
"But what about what we talked about, Geoffrey? What about our plans?"
"I will leave those in your capable hands, Richard," he said, clapping him on the shoulder. "I think you know what you need to do now."
"Yes, but I don't know how!" said Richard.
"You'll figure it out when you're sober," said Geoffrey. "Take the reins again, Richard. And hire yourself a competent Artistic Director. You are master of your destiny!"
"I am master of my destiny!" Richard echoed him. "Right. Yes. So will you come back?"
"Oh, I'm sure I will," said Geoffrey, "one of these days. Nahum, it's been a pleasure, as always."
"Would you come back if I asked you to direct?"
Geoffrey stopped in his tracks and turned back, just for a moment. "I'm sorry?"
"Next season," said Richard. "Would you come back to New Burbage to direct? I promise I'll never pester you about being Artistic Director again."
"I'll... think about it," Geoffrey found himself saying after a moment. What the hell, it was only one play. "Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow."
And with that he swept an imaginary cape over his shoulder and walked away.
"Nahum?" Geoffrey heard Richard ask as he found his way out of the storage room. "Do you know where I can find some flaming batons? And leather?"
"You're going to have to drive," said Geoffrey. "I've had a little too much whiskey."
"You bastard! You found alcohol and you didn't share it with me? I've had to sit through three - three! - stories about the golden years. None of which featured me."
"Hey, at least you didn't have to deal with the mimes."
"Mimes?" said Ellen. "There were mimes? Where were they, hiding behind the elephant statue?"
"There was an elephant statue?"
"Which would have been much easier to cope with if I'd had a drink," she said. "I think it was paper mache. Who the hell has a paper mache elephant at his memorial?"
"Darren Nichols," Geoffrey pronounced. And at least Darren himself was there to enjoy it, because he was certain that no one else would. "What else did I miss?"
"Everything," said Ellen. "Without you there I had to suck it up and say hi to everybody. Do you know how many people showed up? Everybody. Everybody, Geoffrey!"
"Well, it's a lot like a train wreck, isn't it? Everyone has to stop and gawk." He collapsed into the passenger seat of the car and closed his eyes, and realised he wasn't sorry for his part in the festivities. In spite of everything, it had been worth the trip.
"Come on," he said, "let's go home."