‘Where the hell is that man?’ Sam was pacing backstage, missing his Iago. Everyone else kept well out of his way, preparing themselves for the curtain to rise. ‘Ned!’
Ned lifted his head from his script which he was furiously studying. This could be it, the opportunity he had been waiting for, but there was a tricky song in the middle of the play, placed in only to comply with the Olympia’s licence which disallowed them from putting on straight plays. ‘Boss?’
‘You were with him last night. Patrick. What time did he go home?’
Ned swallowed and thought quickly. ‘It wasn’t that late, really. We were on Union Street. Left at the same time, but we live in different directions so…’
‘Damn him!’ Sam stormed off, calling to one of the odd-job boys to run to Patrick’s lodgings and see if he could be dragged to the theatre.
‘Looks like it’s me and you again.’ Daniel had appeared as if out of nowhere. For a large man he moved quietly, Ned thought. ‘Funny how things work out.’
‘What d’you mean?’ Ned spoke defensively.
‘Just that the part was supposed to be yours until Patrick arrived in town. Unless he’s so gravely ill that he doesn’t know where he is, Sam won’t trust him again.’
‘I didn’t realise Sam was so quick to bear a grudge.’ Ned thought back to the conversation he had had with the theatre manager the week before. Sam had trusted him. If he found out that Ned had left Patrick in the street like he had, he’d surely blame Ned as much as Patrick.
‘It’s not about grudges as such. More about protecting what we have here.’ Daniel slapped Ned on the back. ‘The Olympia is all about giving talented actors a chance, but we have to earn it.’
‘I’m sure that there’ll be a perfectly reasonable explanation for Patrick’s absence,’ Ned said, his conscience prickling. But any guilt was soon forgotten.
‘Ned! Get changed into Iago’s costume. You have five minutes.’ Sam thundered past. ‘Now who will be my Cassio?’
Excitement carried Ned through the performance, one of his best by the volume of the booing that he received as he bowed deeply, the applause so loud it felt like a soft punch to his body.
‘Incredible work, both of you.’ Sam was waiting in the wings to congratulate Daniel and Ned as they came off, shirts drenched in sweat after two hours before the heat of the footlights.
A young boy came up and tapped Sam’s elbow. ‘Sir?’
‘What? Oh. Did you find Patrick?’
The lad removed his cap and looked solemn. ‘Yes, sir. It’s not good news. I went to where he was living only his landlord hadn’t seen him since yesterday. I walked back the way you said he would have gone, past the river, and a fella there told me that a body was found there this morning.’
‘Dear God.’ Sam sat down heavily on the nearest crate. ‘Surely not.’
Ned felt his body weaken. ‘Boy. Tell us now. Was it him? Was it Patrick?’
‘Yes sir. I went to the morgue, you see, that’s why I took some time gettin’ back. He had a letter in his pocket which was damaged from the water, but when I give his name they managed to decipher enough to pick out his name and the name of the theatre.’
‘The letter that I sent him.’ Sam shook his head. ‘How did it happen?’
‘Fell into the river and drowned they reckon.’
‘Oh lord.’ Ned staggered and dropped to his haunches as nausea overcame him. ‘It’s my fault. I should have walked him home.’
‘Come now, how were you to know?’ Daniel lifted Ned back to his feet, acting as a crutch. ‘This isn’t your fault. It’s not like you left him there to drown. He was on his feet when you left him.’
Ned fell quiet but he knew that envy had bettered him.