Saturday nights were usually one of the highlights of the week down at L's Jokeshop. It was amateur night, which was supposed to be a time for a bunch of local comedy fans and up-and-comers to get up on stage and have some fun. It was a tradition, a way for a bunch of locals to blow off some steam at the end of the week. Theoretically, there should be a pretty good turnout.
This Saturday wasn't like most Saturdays, though. Earlier that week, a bunch of kids had gotten kidnapped from Cochise High. Since then, the whole town had been in an inescapable funk. People still went about their daily routines, but it was as though the energy had been sucked out of them. Everyone was either worrying for their own children or in shock at how something like this could have happened, much less in their community. This was affecting amateur night as well. The signup sheet was positively anemic compared to weeks past. So few people had signed on that a couple of the club's regular performers had to be called in just to make sure that they wouldn't have to close the doors early.
Backstage, Heavy L could see how his own crew's spirits had deflated over the past week. Usually by this time in the evening, they would be swapping jokes, trying out bits, and generally having a good time while they got their set together. This time around, the room was so quiet that one could hear a pin drop. It was bizarre, especially considering the group of normally lively personalities that lined the area at the time.
One of the best examples of this shift in mood could be seen in Maria Mendes. With a boisterous personality both on and off stage, she could normally be counted on to be the life of the party. Hell, it was only a month ago that they were toasting her securing a spot on an upcoming stand-up tour, and she celebrated by roasting everyone in the room to uproarious reaction. But on this night, she silently read through her planned set for the night. No testing out her material on others or laughing at her own jokes like she usually would. It was so out of the ordinary that it was almost hard to believe.
And Maria didn't even have any relatives that went to Cochise. Jimmy Sammartino, who was currently hanging out in his usual corner of the backstage area, actually had a little brother that went there, although they were only a freshman. The idea that his brother could have been among the missing kids had really shaken him, and everyone in the room knew it. Normally he would be looking around the room, searching for the next subject of his cutting commentary. However, today he was just looking at his feet, lost in his own thoughts.
The mood in the room was way too depressing especially on what was usually such a fun night. Heavy L had to excuse himself and head to the front of the house. He figured that greeting visitors might be a better way to spend his time rather than brooding about what had happened. He just had to put on a happy face and be a good host. That might take away from the encroaching despair.
He spotted a middle-aged couple at the entrance, waiting for someone to address them. He didn't recognize either of them, so he assumed that they were first-timers looking for a way to lighten the stress that had settled over the town. Always the people-pleaser, L stepped forth to greet them.
"Hi there." He said cheerily. "Welcome to L's Jokeshop. What brings you two here tonight?"
The two looked at each other, as though they were wordlessly conferring while trying to figure out what to say. L was starting to feel as though he had intruded on something, even though he was only trying to do his job. Just as he thought that he would have to apologize for asking, the duo turned back to him, with the woman answering.
"We're here for amateur night. Our daughter used to tell us all the time that we should come watch."
L's smile returned. "Really? That's great! Has she ever been onstage before? I might recognize the name."
Their faces turned grim and he immediately realized that he had probably touched a nerve. Now he really felt like he should apologize, since he was definitely prying at this point, although he didn't mean to. They didn't look him in the eye, probably out of how uncomfortable the scenario was, but they did give him an answer.
"Her name's Rene. Rene Wolfe."
L's face was now as downcast as theirs. He did recognize the name. From two sources, actually. First was from the sign-up sheets. A couple times a month, that name would come up for amateur night. Got good reactions from crowds, and the crew that met her tended to like her.
The other place he saw her name was in the news, when the missing kids were announced.
"I see." He said, fiddling with his necklace in obvious discomfort. "I'm sorry for what happened." He tried his best to sound sincere. He really wasn't the best when it came to dealing with tragedy, especially when it involved total strangers.
"Thank you for your kindness." The husband said.
"You guys just... pick an open table and take a seat. A server will see you in a minute." He instructed the couple, who headed into the main room of the club to get settled in. L hung back for a moment, though. He had to MC the show in a few minutes, but something else had caught his attention.
On the wall near the entrance was a memorial, a collection of names and pictures depicting comedians who had performed at the Jokeshop, but had since passed. Everyone they knew of who fit those qualification was up there, from major stars to up-and-comers to local unknowns. Each name brought back a memory, no matter who they were or how big their profile. Bryan Lyon. Izzy DeZard. Nathan Washington. Hye Park.
Things were already bad enough. God knows he didn't want to have to add another name to the wall.
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