Masque of the Queen: Stephen Mark Rainey

She should have made her way to Hollywood five years ago, back when she had enough money to travel farther than between Upper and Midtown Manhattan. She would wager that, by now, she could have at least snagged a part in some sitcom or second-rate motion picture—something that would have gotten her name out farther than the next block off Broadway. Finances were tighter than ever, and though she had no problem lining up auditions, landing a role that paid for something more than a few drinks was tougher now than the day she had spoken her first line on the stage at the Fugazi Playhouse, now closed. She sure as hell couldn’t afford to move to a new place, even in a worse neighborhood. By any standard, her cozy apartment in Manhattan Valley was a bargain, though uncomfortably far from the law office where she temped as receptionist, not to mention the theater district.

Tonight, as usual, the bus was jammed with bodies, but she had managed to grab a seat near the back. To get it, she’d had to physically remove a large shopping bag owned by an older Hispanic woman who had strategically placed it to discourage potential seatmates. On a crowded bus, Kathryn Stefano refused to tolerate such discourtesy, and now the woman, her bag tucked under her seat, sat peering out the window radiating hot, silent hatred.

Kathryn had felt so good about the last audition. They seemed to love her, but her phone had been silent for two weeks, and they had promised an answer within a few days. Bryon Florey, her ersatz agent, had pestered the director enough, perhaps beyond his tolerance level, clearly to no avail. The damned thing would have paid well, too.

She was 28, and her time for grabbing choice roles was rapidly slip-slipping away.

She had never heard of the play before. The King in Yellow, a two-act exercise in surrealism, produced by an unfamiliar company—Mythosphere, it was called—though she knew of the director, one Vernard Broach, who had gained notoriety two decades earlier by helming a production of Jesus Christ, Superstar that took a page from the Gospel of Phillip, in which Jesus and Mary Magdalene were engaged in an amorous relationship, portrayed quite graphically on the stage. For The King in Yellow, Kathryn had read for the part of Cassilda, the queen of a mythical city called Hastur, somewhere on or off the earth, she had no idea. She had not read the entire play, but it supposedly ended on a tragic note, and she’d always had an affinity for tragedies.

At 109th, she disembarked, her seatmate bidding her rude farewell by way of a low “Reina puta,” and had walked most of the block to her building when she felt her jacket pocket vibrating. It was Bryon on the phone.

“You got Cassilda,” came his excited voice. “She’s all yours.”