I felt his eyes before I saw his face. A quick sweep of the audience and I spotted him, the man from last night. On the aisle again, row C, seat 1. A good choice—his bulk would have overflowed the armrests of an interior seat and caused his neighbors to curl their lips and lean away.
I am sensitive to being watched. Whenever someone’s eyes rest overlong on me, a prickly awareness flushes across my neck and shoulders. It comes from a lifetime spent onstage, honing the subtler tricks of the trade—the toss of the hair, the jut of the hips, the flutter of the fingers—whatever pulls the audience’s attention. I can throw attention too: a gasp and wide eyes will send them searching for the cause of my surprise; my languid examination of another actor will turn every head in the audience to him. I know what I’m doing, and I know when I am doing it. At that moment, I was doing nothing. I had finished my line and moved stage right where I stood like a marble statue so as not to distract from Darcy’s solo verse. I was doing nothing to draw the fat man’s stare, yet he was staring.
Had he been young and attractive, I would have been pleased, but this man made me uneasy. He wasn’t watching the act; he was watching me. Two nights in a row. I’d put it down to my great beauty, but I live my life close to the mirror, and I know better.
I missed my cue—something I’d hear about later. Hands on hips, I tap-danced back into the lights, caught up with Angie approaching from stage left, and the seven Little Darlings began to sing the final refrain.
You’ve got to see Mama ev’ry night,
Or you can’t see Mama at all!
All eyes were on me now, and I blocked out any thought of the fat man in the third row.2
Three bows. It should have been two, but “Mama” stole the last one, pulling us back onstage as the applause drizzled away, leaving us to slink off in silence. I was mortified, but no one blamed me, I was just a kid. So to speak. We got out of the way for the Kanazawa Japs.
Our dressing room was as small as a closet. Angie kept bumping my elbow as I wiped off the greasepaint. I snapped at her, then apologized. She was a good kid, wiser than her seventeen years, and a good friend since she’d joined the Little Darlings a couple years back. The closet wasn’t her fault. Fact of the matter, it was better than most I’d seen growing up, with electric lights and heat and toilets in the basement. The Creighton, like all Orpheum Circuit theaters, was Big Time and pretty decent, all in all. But even a headliner’s dressing room at the Creighton would have been seriously crowded with nine of us struggling to change to street clothes.
At last I escaped, my coat over my shoulders and Angie at my heels.
“Lordy mercy, I could use a drink!” she exclaimed—uselessly, since we both knew my bottle of hooch was empty and neither of us knew Omaha well enough to find a speakeasy that would admit two girls who looked fifteen. “Three shows! Whew!”
“Many’s the time I’ve played four or even five shows a day,” I said. “And in theaters without dressing rooms at all. We’re lucky to have made Big Time.”
“I know,” she said, but she didn’t really.
We threaded our wa
“Miley shows a deft touch and sets a blistering pace in her debut novel. Leah Randall/Jessie Carr leaps off the pages in this “Roaring Twenties” period piece that drips with bathtub gin, truck-size cars, outsize personalities, money, high stakes and enough twists, turns and sleights of hand to keep one reading late into the night…Simply put, this book is FUN.”
“Mary Miley has delivered a tale that lures us into the dangerous underworld of Prohibition: rum smugglers, bootleggers, and the glamorous lost realm of vaudeville…a realm so real that we can almost smell the greasepaint. The Impersonator is an exciting debut!”
“The story is engrossing, the characters satisfyingly larger than life, and one can only hope for an encore from the smart, feisty, and talented heroine.”
—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (starred review)
“Historian Miley, winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award, presents a colorfully detailed mystery…and a heroine whom readers will want to see succeed.”
“[A] spirited debut…Compelling characters, an engaging story line, and a heroine with lots of moxie make this a thoroughly enjoyable read.”
“Miley's clever historical debut successfully portrays an intricate puzzle featuring multiple cons. Her protagonist dazzles.”