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“Please take your seats. The Villains, Vixens and Varmints Vaudeville Show is about to begin.” The master of ceremonies’ mellifluous voice boomed across Martini Theatre, and lights dimmed as a uniformed usher escorted me and Agent Burton to our front-row seats.
The society editor—my boss, Mrs. Harper—snagged two front-and-center seats to Friday night’s opening performance. No doubt the traveling troupe expected the Galveston Gazette (rather, me) to give them a rave review.
Well, we’d see if this dog-and-pony show lived up to its billing, literally. The MC gave a short introduction and a chubby clown paraded onstage with a spotted pony, a small terrier-mix perched atop its back. When the clown tried to coax the pup to stand on its hind legs, the spunky mutt refused to cooperate, while the audience laughed with glee....
I’d tried to beg off this assignment, but my boss always found a way to make me work until the last minute. “Vaudeville is so old hat,” I protested. “Wouldn’t you rather attend? It’s right up your alley.”
“What do you mean by that, young lady?” Mrs. Harper eyed me under her wide-brimmed floral Edwardian bonnet. “Are you implying that I’m an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy, not as modern as you young flappers?”
Yes, that’s exactly what I meant. “Not at all. I thought you’d enjoy the show more since I prefer moving pictures. I can’t wait to see The Jazz Singer!”
“Take your young man and have a good time. Besides, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
My young man? She made Agent Burton sound like a pet Scottie.
Sure, I was sweet on him, despite my mixed feelings: Did I really want to date a Federal officer with such a dangerous occupation? As the lone Prohibition agent in the “Free State of Galveston”—where mobsters mingled with police and politicians—I worried his days might be numbered. The Treasury Department could ship Burton off to a new town on an even riskier assignment. Worse, Galveston gangsters could gun him down any moment, just for doing his job.
During intermission, the MC announced a last-minute replacement for Dan Dastardly in the closing act. After the break, “Milo the Magician” took the stage, elegant in a tux, top hat and white gloves, and performed his requisite card tricks and rabbit in the hat....
The final act highlighted a short scene from The Perils of Pauline, featuring a dastardly villain wearing a black mask and cape trying to kidnap helpless, hapless Pauline. Twirling his handlebar moustache, the evil masked man tied poor Pauline to a tree while the Tom Mix character managed to chase off the villain, and rescue his beloved damsel-in-distress. Yes, the act was so corny and hammy that it was comical, but I enjoyed the melodrama of it all.
After the show, the performers gathered on stage, and as each act stepped forward to take their separate bows, the applause grew louder. When thePerils of Pauline actors appeared, the audience stood up, clapping wildly and cheering as the performers grinned and waved. Seems I was wrong about vaudeville: The appreciative audience gave all the actors a standing ovation.
Strange, I noticed the villain smiling at me from his vantage point onstage—or was he? Surely I imagined it...until he took off his hat and held it out to me like a rose, or a bribe. Then he gave me a bold wink—right in front of Agent Burton. Blushing, I did a double-take: Was the villain flirting with me? Or did he know I worked for the Gazette?
“Looks like the mystery man has his eye on you,” Burton teased. “Should I be jealous?”
“Dan Dastardly?” I laughed it off. “He must want a mention in the Gazette. You know actors and their egos.”....
As we left, I glanced at the stage and saw the villain staring after us, his arms crossed, looking puzzled. What did he expect—an interview? A bouquet of flowers? My phone number?
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“When you grow up in Houston, Galveston becomes like a second home. I had no idea this sleepy beach town had such a wild and colorful past until I began doing research, and became fascinated by the legends and stories of the 1920s. Finally I had to stop researching and start writing, trying to imagine a flapper’s life in Galveston during Prohibition.”
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