The white crockery sang its usual morning tune as Moonu, the Hotel Delite waiter, delivered breakfast dishes and pots of coffee or tea to the tables scattered around the upstairs dining room. Though barely eight o’clock, most of the guests had already ordered and plunged into newspapers or discussions for their plans for the day. Anita loved the sound of the hotel waking up.
“All is well?” Auntie Meena peered into the dining room.
“Everyone seems happy.” Anita made a half turn and glanced back at a young woman hunched over a steaming cup of coffee. “Miss Tiffany doesn’t seem very cheerful this morning.”
“Anita, she is an actress. She is achieving proper mood for her work. A sad story I am thinking.” Auntie Meena was nothing if not a devoted fan of the arts. “I shall offer my admiration.” And with that she marched across the dining room and stopped abruptly, her expression shifting from sweet anticipation to abject embarrassment. She opened and closed her mouth without speaking, stunned into silence in the face of fame. Anita decided to rescue her.
“Good morning, Miss Tiffany.” Anita stepped beside her aunt. “Do you find everything as you like it?”
Miss Tiffany, a young woman who looked like she’d earned the name at the moment of birth, stared up at Anita with the most startling green eyes and a complexion that always brought to mind the cliche of peaches and cream, no matter what country she landed in. She had silky blond hair that held a curl and swept down to her long neck from a perfect widow’s peak. Even Anita was taken aback by her beauty. “Oh, yes, everything’s wonderful,” Tiffany said.
“You look as though something is wrong,” Anita said. For once, Auntie Meena didn’t jump in to defend her beloved hotel, a sign of how smitten she was by this young foreigner. “Can we do anything to make your visit more enjoyable?”
Tiffany sighed deeply and tilted her head to the side. Really, Anita thought, she’d be wonderful on a soap opera. “I wish you could. But I guess I’m just not a very good actress.”
“But you are a superb actress, the very best. I am knowing this.” Auntie Meena clenched her hands together as though her feelings were almost too much for her to contain. Miss Tiffany smiled.
“Thank you, Mrs. Nair. But I’m not very good at all.”
“What has made you so disappointed?” Anita asked.
At the moment Hotel Delite was packed with guests, including a few members of the film crew making a romantic movie, a rom-com she’d been told, in the city. They retreated to the hotel every evening quite late, and sometimes not until after midnight. At first the hotel schedule was thrown way off kilter, but the staff adjusted, which meant Anita stayed up most of the night and Moonu dragged through the day like a zombie. The cook seemed unfazed and willing to stand at his stove for hours on end. Anita didn’t blame Tiffany for becoming dispirited.
“I’ve had to do the same scene over one hundred and seventy times already,” Tiffany said. She stared at her coffee.
“Perhaps it is especially difficult. Are there so many lines?” Meena asked.
“I have no lines.”
“No lines?” Meena screwed up her face and repeated this several times. “Why are you having no lines?”
“My role is to walk up to the hotel, speak to the doorman, and then enter. Then I walk through the hotel lobby to the restaurant. I know the exact number of steps, which foot to use to begin to climb the short stairs to the lobby, how many steps on the carpet and how many on the marble, when to lift my hand to acknowledge the doorman, the concierge, the clerk on the desk, the head waiter in the restaurant. I have it down to the nanosecond. But no lines that anyone hears.”
“You must be having lines,” Auntie Meena said. “Such a lovely voice you are having.”
“What happens then?” Anita asked.
“Then I do it again.” She shook her head. “Oh, you mean in the movie. I don’t know. The next scene takes place on the other side of the city, and the scene before takes place in an antique shop somewhere else.”
“But when is your next scene?”
“I don’t have one. When we all gathered for dinner on the first night I thought I could get the director to explain things to me, but he kept saying, Whatever and Who are you? I felt like I was getting in the way.”
“You should try to talk to him again,” Anita said.
“I do but our schedule never seems to mesh with his and we keep missing him.” And with that Tiffany sighed again and rose from the table. “Time to be off. We begin filming at nine—again.” She rolled her eyes and headed out of the dining room. When the cameraman saw Tiffany pass his table, he nudged the man next to him and the two followed her out, the cameraman tall and rangy with broad shoulders and sandals slapping against the terrazzo, and his assistant, apparently a student, a good foot shorter with short hair and heavy glasses.
“She should have lines,” Auntie Meena said when she returned to the registration desk.
“Yes,” Anita agreed. “She should.”
* * *
Moony delivered elevenses to the front desk right on time. He could barely keep his eyes open and Anita sent him home for a nap. She’d manage lunch herself, since it was usually a quiet meal in the hotel.
“Did you know, Auntie, there are three movies being made in the city even now?”
Auntie Meena waggled her head and preened. “Very popular place, isn’t it? Cinema people and artists and important people.”
“And not one of them is filming a story that calls for the Belvedere Hotel lobby, or any exclusive hotel lobby.” Anita continued reading.
“Nonsense. This is in the story. Tiffany is telling us.” Meena pulled the newspaper away from Anita. “Here. You are mistaking.” She read through the newspaper article, frowning and muttering. “Perhaps she is going to the wrong hotel.”
“With the cameraman and his assistant?” Anita slid off the stool and promised to be back later.
* * *
Anita didn’t return to the hotel until almost six-thirty, when the sun was setting and a pink glow seeped into the sky. She was hot and tired and worried, and headed straight for her suite over the garage. Half an hour later, as the lights began to glow on the sandy terrace and dinner guests headed down the stairs, Anita found her aunt in the office, wringing her hands and staring around wild-eyed.
“Oh, Anita! A terrible thing has happened. Terrible.” Meena grabbed her niece’s wrists and pulled her into the office. “The police are in the upstairs dining room with Tiffany. She is to be arrested. And the cameraman and his assistant are gone! A great crime has been done. What is to be done?”
“Well, first I’ll go in and find out what the police are thinking,” Anita said.
“They are thinking terrible things about our Miss Tiffany.” Auntie Meena sank into her chair. “It is very bad you are not here to help. Very bad.”
Anita patted her aunt’s shoulder and headed into the dining room. She marched in without knocking on the door, and a young constable jumped to stop her but his superior waved him to the side and lifted his eyebrow in query. Anita introduced herself.
“We are almost finished here,” the subinspector said. “Miss Tiffany will be coming with us. She is refusing to cooperate, so she will come in for further questioning.”
Anita wondered if Miss Tiffany could have cooperated if she wanted to. She was crying so strenuously, sniffling and gulping air and wiping the tears streaming down her perfect pink cheeks that she could barely get out a word of protest let alone of explanation.
“That won’t be necessary,” Anita said. “The people you want are the cameraman and his assistant.”
“Exactly,” the subinspector said. “And Miss Tiffany refuses to tell us where they have gone.”
“They have absconded,” Anita said. “But they won’t get far.”
“And how are you knowing this?” The subinspector rose, and Anita realized how intimidating he was. She was glad they were on the same side, and she fervently hoped he knew that.
“The cameraman asked for the use of our car and driver for the day, so this afternoon, after I guessed what was happening, I texted Joseph and told him to take them wherever they wanted to go, but not to get there. They are stranded even now in the hills, where Joseph is trying to fix the car.” She pulled out her cell phone and turned the screen to the subinspector. He peered at it but didn’t reach for it.
“And why did you do this?” he asked. Even Tiffany stopped sniveling enough to listen. She stared at Anita with astonishment.
“I went to watch the filming this morning to see you, Miss Tiffany,” Anita said. “You were struggling with your role, you said, and I wanted to see how it was going.” Anita knew no one but perhaps Auntie Meena later would challenge this blatant lie. “And I saw her going through her scene, marching in and out of the Belvedere Hotel.” The name of one of the poshest hotels in Kerala elicited approving murmurs from the subinspector. The constable’s eyes widened and then narrowed.
“They are having important exhibit,” the constable said. The subinspector was about to scold his underling when Anita turned to him and smiled.
“Exactly so.” Anita turned back. “And with Miss Tiffany’s unwitting help the cameraman and his assistant made off with a pile of jewelry, leaving Miss Tiffany to face the police and the hotel bill.”
Anita heard someone gasp behind her. “They are running off without paying the bill?”
“Alas, Auntie Meena, they have done this.”
“And Miss Tiffany will answer for it,” the subinspector said.
“She was a dupe,” Anita said.
“The concierge and others saw her go to the jewelry exhibit,” he said.
“They saw a person in her outfit in a blond wig,” Anita said. “While she is outside taking a short break, the assistant cameraman dressed in a wig with her makeup and a matching outfit entered the hotel, deviating slightly from the script. But no one is noticing because they have seen this actress crossing the floor so many times that she is now invisible. The double is going to the jewelry display and in a moment taking three fine pieces worth lakhs and lakhs, and walking out the door. A moment later, Miss Tiffany returned to her place, despondent but determined to carry on. She enters and walks through and when she returns, the cameraman and his assistant are not there. But the concierge is there and the security guards on duty are there. And now she is here, not knowing where the other two have gone or what has happened.”
“But you say you know where they are?”
“I do.” She tapped in the instructions to Joseph and turned the screen to the subinspector again. “And now you do too.”
The subinspector grumbled, growled an order into his mobile, and headed out the door, ordering the constable to stand guard over the actress.
“What will happen to me now?” Tiffany asked.
“You will get a better role,” Auntie Meena said, sitting down beside her and patting her hands. “An artist must never give up. Another role is coming. I am certain of it.”
“Exactly,” Anita said. “The starring role in the trial of the cameraman and his assistant.”