The Case of the Reformed Songbird--Part One
by HA

"...and that's it for tonight, folks," Stink Patterson addressed the audience at the Quazar Cafe, closing his comedy routine. The audience applauded him. "Thanks for stopping by. You come back now, you hear?"

The audience continued to clap as Stink rejoined his friends at one of the tables. "Good routine, Stink," Shirley Holmes said.

"Yeah, you were great," Bo Sawchuk added.

"You really made them laugh," Blake Hewitt observed.

Alicia Gianelli, who was taking a break from taking people's orders, offered her input. "It wasn't bad," she said without excitement.

Stink's jaw dropped. "Wasn't bad?" he said with mock amazement. "I totally slayed these people."

"You sure did," Bo said.

"Not everyone," Alicia said, pointing to a nearby table. "Those two guys didn't even chuckle."

There, two men were not applauding. Shirley looked at them closely. One was dressed in a tan business suit and had spiked black hair. He was also quite thin. He looked like he was waiting for someone to perform; he kept looking at the stage, then at his wrist watch. The other man was scowling and he was looking around the room. He had his right eye covered by a black patch and he wore a black business suit over his muscular frame. His blond hair was cut into a buzzcut.

"Hmmmm..." Shirley took another look at the two men.

Stink noticed the two men. "Some people have no sense of humor."

"Especially that guy," Bo said, pointing to the one-eyed man. He hasn't cracked a smile throughout the whole show."

"Yeah, that is unusual," Blake agreed.

"Indeed," Shirley said.

"Well, that was Stink Patterson, an up-and-coming comic," the master of ceremonies said. "Our final performer for tonight's Amateur Night has never performed in public before, but she is very talented. Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for Madelyn Clifton!"

As the audience applauded, a short black girl in a white blouse and a black skirt walked onto the stage. She took the microphone from the emcee. "Hi, everyone," she said, sounding a little nervous. "I'm new to all this, so please bear with me." She smiled at the audience. "I wrote this little number myself. I hope you like it."

Madelyn motioned to someone off-stage, and an audio tape with her accompanying music was played. She sang the following:

Sometimes when things just look bleak (look bleak),
You may just feel like giving up.
Well, don't sur-render! Take a chance!

Take a look a-round you; the world is beau-tiful.
The sun is out and shi-ning, and the sky is nice and blue.
Your family and your friends are always there for you and there's no sign of trou-ble.
Happiness surrounds you like a blan-ket.

But, lurking in the shadows, evil and misery watch our every move,
Plotting to destroy our eternal happiness.

Sometimes when you're down, you just wanna give up.
Sometimes you just want to give up hope.
Well, resist the darkness, and stand up proud and tall!

Sometimes when things just look bleak,
You may just feel like giving up.
Well, don't give up hope! Don't ever quit!
Stand up to the darkness now!

Sometimes when things just look bleak,
You may just feel like giving up.
Well, don't surrender! Take a chance!

The crowd listened to Madelyn's singing as if they were mesmerized. When Madelyn was done, the crowd gave a standing ovation. Applause was mixed with cheers. Shirley and her friends joined in.

"Whoa," Bo said.

Madelyn took everything by bowing silently. "She's not bad," Stink said.

"Not bad? That was the best singing I've ever heard!" Alicia exclaimed.

"I have to agree," Blake said. "She has a beautiful voice."

"The lyrics were very inspirational," Shirley noted. She looked at the two men at the nearby table. The spiky-haired man looked concerned. The one-eyed man simply scowled.

* * * * *

A little later, in the dressing room, Madelyn was getting ready to go home. She was just about to leave when she heard a knock on the door. "Come in," she said.

The door opened, and Alicia entered, followed by Shirley, Bo, Blake, and Stink, who closed the door behind him. "Hi," Alicia greeted with a smile. "Are we bothering you?"

"No, not at all. I was just getting ready to go. My mom's picking me up soon," Madelyn said. "Do you need anything?"

"My friends and I just wanted to tell you how great you were out there," Alicia answered. "I'm Alicia Gianelli, and these are my friends Shirley Holmes, Bo Sawchuk, Blake Hewitt, and Stink Patterson."

"Hi, guys," Madelyn said, then she looked at Stink. "You did a good job out there."

"Thanks," Stink said. "You too."

"The emcee said that this is your first time singing in public," Blake said. "It didn't sound like it a while ago."

"Oh, I sing to myself," Madelyn said. "Especially in the shower," she added with a laugh. She looked at the others. "Say, I haven't seen you guys before..."

"We go to Sussex Academy," Bo explained.

"Oh, you mean the rich kids' school?" Madelyn asked with a grin.

"You could say that," Blake said.

"You're a good songwriter as well as a good singer," Shirley commented.

"Thanks," Madelyn said. "I got it from my mom. She's the choir director for our church when she's not working."

"I suppose that was you doing the music on that tape," Stink said.

"Not really. That was my mom," Madelyn admitted. "I'm not very good at playing instruments. In fact, I'm not good at writing music, although my mom's been teaching me."

"Then how...?" Alicia began.

"I usually come up with the tune first. I pretty much take it from there," Madelyn explained. "My mom translates the tune into notes and stuff."

"That song of yours was pretty uplifting," Bo noted.

"I hope it was. It was supposed to be," Madelyn said.

"You've been through a lot, haven't you?" Shirley asked Madelyn.

Madelyn looked at Shirley. "What makes you think that?"

"The way you sang," Shirley answered. "You sang that song like you really meant it."

"Oh." Madelyn was silent for a moment. "Well, we don't exactly have it made in our neighborhood." She sounded a little angry.

Shirley realized what she had done. "I'm sorry if I offended you."

Madelyn waved her hand. "No, no, it's okay. It's nothing personal against you guys. It's just that I wish that me and my mom had a better life. We're not really poor, but my mom works as a waitress at a diner. The pay's not big, but it's enough to get by."

"You know, there's a city-wide talent contest for kids that's going to be held at the Landmark Theater next Saturday," Alicia recalled.

"Yeah," Stink said. "I entered it."

"There are three categories: musical, dance, and variety. Each top finisher in each category will get $5000 and a chance to be on TV," Alicia explained. "I think the runners-up get $1000 and $500 each."

Bo let out a whistle.

"I know about the contest," Madelyn said. "I got the news from my music teacher. He told me to go for it. So did my mom."

"Are you officially in it?" Bo asked.

"I sent in my application yesterday," Madelyn said, smiling. "I got a call today saying that I'm in."

"Congratulations," Blake said.

"Thanks. It would be so good to win." Madelyn sighed. "The money would really help us out."

"Not to mention the exposure," Alicia said. "There's going to be some big-time music producers and talent agents in the audience that night. Even if you don't win, maybe someone could offer you a contract."

"Really?" Madelyn's eyes lit up. "Wow!"

"It's lucky for you that we're in different categories," Stink said with a grin. "I'm sure to win in mine."

"In your dreams, Stink." Alicia rolled her eyes.

"Don't be sure about that $5000 just yet," Madelyn said. "One of my classmates is doing a ventriliquist act. He's very good. You really can't see his lips move."

"You're a definite shoo-in for the musical category," Bo told Madelyn.

"I sure hope so," Madelyn said.

* * * * *

As they left the dressing room, Shirley noticed that the two men were standing outside. The spiky-haired man was on a cellular phone talking to someone; he sounded urgent. The one-eyed man watched as Shirley and the others left. Shirley heard him snarl a little.

*I have a bad feeling about those two,* Shirley thought.

END OF PART ONE