Episode 15

The Missing Singers of the Universal Harmony Choir: Grace.

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Hello, I’m Micheal Midas, and welcome to the podcast. In this episode, we’re going to explore the disappearance of three exceptionally talented singers named Grace Stevenson.

Well, she wasn’t exactly a member of the choir at the time she went missing. She had quit it for almost six months, after John Smalls, the old, demanding conductor – showed his compassionate side, and allowed a lousy singer named Andre Slinger to join the group.

Now quitting a choir for six months usually means that you’re out for good. But John Smalls had invited Grace to rejoin, and she was definitely considering it. And of course, John knew she was close friends with fellow singers Chasity and Hope, who also had quit the group. And if Grace rejoined the choir, they surely would follow along and rejoin as well.

So the following is how John Smalls invited Grace to rejoin the group.
It was the middle of August, 1998, and the Fall Harvest Choir Competition was nearing. As every year, the Universal Harmony Choir was participating in it, and since they’d won it three out of the previous five years, they should have been confident to do so – but this time their chances of winning seemed slim. The choir was suffering from PTSD caused by the phenomenal UFO sighting over the Spring Tulips Festival.

John could have invited Grace sooner, but he was in denial the choir sounded dismal during their summer performance schedule. At events from a shopping mall opening to a grass hockey tournament, he conducted the choir like Napoleon leading his troops to the gates of Moscow.

The truth finally snapped into John’s head during a concert at a pension home for retired high school teachers. A singer named Betty was moping around like a bipolar 90 year old on morphine, which caused a nurse to mistake her for a patient, and ask that she keep her distance from the choir. John almost scolded the nurse for the confusion, but then recalled that while the singer had been warming up, she’d sounded like she was moaning in pain. Instead he apologized to the nurse for the singer’s lacklustre attitude.

For the next few days, while working at his regular job as an accountant, John determined that not only were the choir’s chances of winning the Fall Competition almost zero, but that somehow it was his fault. The guilt led him to try and understand what happened, and he concluded that the choir was doing quite well until he let Andre Slinger charm him into a singing spot.

Then John ignored that charmer Andre was getting further and further under the choir’s skin with his lousy voice. And John didn’t even stand up for everyone, and give Andre his walking papers.

This negligence allowed Andre to disappear without anyone getting the satisfaction of telling him exactly how lousy he sounded. And the UFO sighting – John thought it was either advanced pyrotechnics, or some kind of laser light show, courtesy of Andre – because he truly enjoyed traumatizing the choir.

But whatever it was, since John had convinced himself the mess was his fault, he could think of only one honourable action, which was for him to resign from the choir right away, and take the blame he thought he deserved. And the chaos that would ensue without his leadership was almost guaranteed to create that blame – it was at this moment, that John’s accounting boss walked into his office, and slapped down a letter of complaint from a long time client.

Well, this is another story, so I won’t get into it, but strangely it put John in a devil-may-care frame of mind.

After his boss left the room, John felt like he was on a leaky boat destined to sink, no matter how many holes he plugged. “Screw it,” he said. “I’m going to have fun.”

He decided to postpone his departure from the choir until after the Fall Harvest Competition.

He laughed with confidence – perhaps he could find a way to break the curse of Andre, and win the darn competition.

That’s when Grace, Chasity and Hope, came to his mind. They were the only singers who refused to accept that Andre joined the choir. From the moment they heard his lousy voice, all the charm in the world couldn’t have convinced them he had rightfully earned a singing spot.

The three young singers were sure to boost the choir back to life. John recalled that they sounded like angels and that they also kindly minded their own business during the rehearsal breaks – so they’d never be as nervy as Andre and ask to conduct songs.

The idea of having them back comforted John so much that he almost forgot about their awkwardly silent departure, when they marched out of his office. John snapped into a worry that calling Grace might be a bust.

Well, John may have felt lowly, but he dug up her number in his phone book anyway. When called her, he was surprised that she was in good spirits, speaking as though they were best of friends.

Grace mentioned that she’d found a part time job working at a shoe store, and she was thinking about going to college – though she didn’t know what to take. It was a side of Grace that John hadn’t seen before. During choir rehearsal breaks, she’d only ever spoken about finding the perfect husband.

All the nice talk made John feel good about asking her to rejoin the choir, at least to help out for the Fall Competition. But when the chance came, after she asked how the choir was doing, John bit his lip in hesitation. He would rather to ask her in person.

“We’ve had a change of direction in the choir and you’d appreciate hearing about it over a coffee,” he said.

Grace laughed nervously, as though she had an overly friendly Uncle that had just invited her to see Sixteen Candles in 3D.

“Well,” she said, “I haven’t sung a note since I left the choir.”

John stretched out the most fake smile he was capable of, though it didn’t matter cause they were on the phone.

Anyway, you could say he was expecting a better response, like she was rehearsing daily with her friends Chasity, and Hope, and they were looking for the perfect reason to rejoin the choir. Well, now John was working from behind the eight-ball.

“I understand,” he said. “The choir has been through so much. Jan Nibs went missing, and you probably don’t know that Andre Slinger also disappeared.”

Grace chuckled nervously.

“Glad I didn’t stick around to go missing as well,” she said.

John didn’t quite know what to make of her statement, but it sounded like she could be more considerate of people that go missing – well, except for Andre. John could give a rat’s-ass about him.

“I guess you’re more fortunate than poor Jan,” he said.

“It’s one less person around with the same hair as mine,” Grace responded.

The comment floored John’s eyebrows. He fully understood that both Grace and Jan had long, straight blond hair, but it was no reason for Grace to brush off Jan’s disappearance with a petty quip.

“Did you just say what I thought you did?” John asked.

Grace blushed with regret.

“You didn’t understand me,” she said. “I meant that it’s much easier to remember her as talented singer, now that her hair doesn’t bother me anymore.”

John smiled with empathy.

“Yeah, I miss her voice too, but I miss your voice just as much.”

Grace’s eye’s lit up with joy.

“Really?” she said.

John rubbed his chin with confidence.

“Scout’s Honour,” he said.

So John invited her for a chat at Bob’s Coffee House which, FYI would eventually become Becky’s coffee shop under new management.

Surprisingly, Grace said she could meet him the very next evening, which was kind of tight for John, since on Wednesday nights he went grocery shopping.

But he didn’t mind at all, after she suggested they sit on the patio, and see if any other choir members walked by, since many of them lived in the area. Hearing this, John felt she was ready to make a positive impact on the choir.

Well, the next day was rife with thunderstorms. While John was at work, he worried that Grace might be disappointed that they wouldn’t be able to sit on the patio. To make up for it, on the way home, he stopped at a local novelty store and bought her a Ruby Flower Brooch.

That evening, John arrived at the coffee house a little ahead of time, in order to find the best table available- and he did – a window-side table with a view of the Fire Dept across the street. You know what he was thinking?

The sight of a building that is filled with first responders will keep Grace’s mind off the dangerous thunderstorms. What a guy.
John set the Ruby Flower Brooch on the table, then ordered himself a French Caramel mocha.

Grace showed up about twenty minutes late, and with a man who John recognized right away though he found the sight of him off-putting.

The man’s appearance contrasted Grace’s youth and innocence. He was tall and stark, had a stoic face with a grey beard and a head of hair that were meticulously groomed. He wore a dark blue rain jacket with a slight glitter that was more a fashion statement than practical outerwear.

Both Grace and the man sneered at the brooch, but neither of them spoke a word about it. The gesture was enough for John to hold off from giving it to Grace.

“You’ve ordered already,” the man said. “I figured you’d have waited for us.”

John gulped nervously, and said he ordered because he was feeling a bit chilly from the rain.

Without ordering anything, Grace and the man sat down.

“Captain Jameson,” John continued. “Are you two related?”

“We’re better than related,” the Captain said, “We understand each other personally.”

Now, he could have easily given a yes or no answer – but he had become wealthy from exuberantly caring statements, as he was the famous author of a self-help book called, “The easy way to believe in yourself.”

He also could have answered John’s question by mentioning that he was a neighbour of Grace’s family. They both lived in the wealthiest part of the Mysterious Bluffs.

But Captain Jameson wasn’t particularly close to Grace’s family. It’s that when he moved in the area fifteen years before hand, almost everyone had already heard of him.

Because he’d achieved international success as an author, every time he bumped into one of the locals, they treated him like a sacred cow.

So Grace’s family, who’d achieved their wealth because her father owned a hum drum printing business, were enamoured with the rarity of Captain Jameson’s success.

Before they met him, writing books for a living was as sensible as building a flying saucer in your backyard – but after Captain Jameson moved in the area, Grace’s family formed the belief that some folks know how to find the money that grows on trees. In hopes of rubbing elbows with luck itself, they invited him for dinner every once in a while, and when he had the time, he obliged.

So Grace’s family was unabashedly impressed by Captain Jamison, and that’s why she invited him to her meeting with John. But before we go into what happened at the meeting, let me talk about the details of why the Captain came along with her.

After the phone call was over with John Smalls, Grace felt dark inside. She had no dignified reason to meet the man who forced her to quit the choir. Back then, she swore never to speak with him again, nor have anything to do with him. Now, she was questioning why she they’d had a amicable conversation, when she should have hung up.

A couple hours later, Grace was buzzing the intercom at the gate outside Captain Jameson’s large victorian house.

The call was answered by Ms. Cassidy, the older Scottish woman who was the live-in house-keeper.

Grace explained to her that she needed to speak with the Captain about an important issue.

Ms. Cassidy asked for the unexpected visitor’s phone number and promised Capt. Jameson would get back to her.

But then, mysteriously, the Captain came on the line, and invited Grace inside for a tea.

“I love tea,” she said.

While Ms. Cassidy prepared a pot of organic Japanese Sencha, the Captain brought Grace to the tea room, which was on the main floor in the rear of his house.

The room was large, bright and had a few pictures on the wall of the Captain shaking hands with astute-looking individuals. The window gave view to a sunflower garden in the backyard.

They sat down at the oak wood table, then the Captain chatted with her about changes The Mysterious Bluffs had gone through in recent years. A shopping mall had opened, a set of traffic lights had been installed at a nearby intersection, and other mundane events that put Grace on edge, as her vexed thoughts about John were brewing to a peak.

After Ms. Cassidy served the tea, Grace couldn’t hold off any longer. She told the Captain that John had forced her to quit the choir some months back, and he’d just called her and asked that they meet for coffee.

Grace then admitted to the Captain that she was disappointed in herself that she’d agreed to see him again.

The Captain listened with deep concern, though all the while savouring that such a fresh-faced lass was before him venting her frustrations.

He asked if he was the only one she’d spoken to about the issue.

“Yes,” she said.

The Captain grinned with pleasure. He would never have thought Grace would come to him, let alone with a personal issue. And boy, did he have some advice for her.

“You need to come sailing with me,” he said. “It’ll help calm you down.”

This is a good time to explain why Captain Jameson is called a Captain. It’s a title he’d given himself to embody a lifestyle change he’d taken on about ten years beforehand.

At that time, he’d bought a large schooner, and learned to sail it. He took many trips around the Great Lakes, and after a few years, he was sailing to the Caribbean every fall and spending the winter months marina hopping.

Sure, the title Captain sounds a bit overbearing for a sailboat enthusiast – but he wasn’t just being full of himself.

Though he was a celebrated self-help author, his heart was no longer with that genre of writing. He wanted to be Hemingway, and jump off a boat with a knife in his mouth, rescue his girlfriend from sharks, then turn the story into a chapter of a book. So the positivity guru Pete Jameson became Captain Jameson, the author of sea adventures.

And though his Caribbean journeys were supposedly mundane in comparison, the four adventure books he’d written to date were all successful – though they remained in the shadow of his best selling self-help book.

So Grace giggled about the Captain’s offer to sail, but didn’t quite know what to say. She’d never sailed before in her life, and the suggestion seemed a bit extreme for what she’d expected of him – which was some life coaching to help her make stronger decisions.

Well the Captain didn’t take a giggle for an answer. He insisted she come, and promised that the freshness of the late summer wind, and the wide open water on Lake Ontario, would help deprogram her from the New Moon Church, which he assured her was a mind-control cult.

Then he told her that she had been brainwashed to be polite to John, because anyone in their right mind would have told him to jump off a bridge.

“No, it’s not true,” Grace said,

She said that the New Moon Church had no control over her mind. She never had gone to services. Nobody had asked her to, and her parents wouldn’t let her anyway. They believed the church was a mind-control cult as well. The choir was a different story though, since Grace was a great singer and their home was a fifteen minute walk away from rehearsals.

“The choir is one of the ways the church lures people into joining the cult,” the Captain said. “What did you talk about at rehearsals, besides the music?”

“Well, if I must admit it,” she said. “I always talked about finding the perfect man to marry.”

The Captain pointed a finger in the air, as though there was more to the perfect man than she could see.

“Did you speak about the perfect man anywhere else,” he asked.

“No, I’m pretty sure just choir rehearsal.”

“There you have it,” the Captain said. “The New Moon Church got it into your head that you should be married, and I’m sure they would have found you a man if you hadn’t have left the choir.”

Grace thought about it. She thought that after quitting the choir, she’d lost interest in finding the perfect man, and gotten a part time job at a shoe store so she could be independent. She wanted to go back to college.

“You’re right,” she said. “The choir is part of a cult.”

The Captain again offered to take her sailing, and this time she said yes, but insisted the he come along to meet John at the Coffee House.

She could use the support when she told him that she’d rather not rejoin the choir.

He agreed and made her promise that the next sunny day that she wasn’t working at the shoe store, they’d go sailing together.

Sitting in the Coffee House, John, Grace, and Captain Jameson were all quiet.

John had just asked if Grace and him were related. And the Captain replied that they were better than related. They understood each other personally.

Grace looked out the window, and spotted a ball of light zip across the sky. Her stomach turned a little, and she felt threatened, as though the strange sight could cause harm to her.

“The Captain would like to join the choir,” she said, “But he can’t sing.”

Both the Captain and John’s faces turned blank with confusion.

It took a few silent seconds before the Captain laughed.

“It’s a joke to break the ice,” he said.

“No, it’s not a joke,” Grace said.

There was silence again as the confusion sunk in deeper. Worried the situation was deteriorating, Grace cleared her throat then asked if they had just seen a ball of light zip across the sky.

John’s face went red with frustration.

“You think I’d let a famous self-help author in the choir, even if he has a lousy voice,” John said, staring deep into her eyes. “No it can’t be. You must be testing me with a joke. I assure you, I will not let another lousy singer join the choir, nor will I let a UFO sighting ruin a concert again.”

Grace recalled reading about the frenzy of UFOs that had caused the Spring Tulips Concert to be cancelled. She felt guilty that the misfortune had been beyond John’s control, as he’d always put an amazing effort into every performance.

“What was the real reason you chose Andre over me?” She asked John. “And don’t say you didn’t.”

John took a deep breath and admitted believing that Andre was a positive force that came from a place beyond our solar system.

Grace snickered anxiously, and asked if she was hearing things.

Captain Jameson said no, then gazed John with disbelief.

“Beyond the solar system?” He said. “What is that supposed to mean?”

John shook his head in despair, and explained that Andre had him believing the stars could be reached through singing – and he believed this so much that Andre’s lousy voice sounded like a rocket ship blasting off.

The Captain grinned cynically.

“When a rocket ship blasts off, does it make an elf feel like tap dancing?” He asked.

“Huh,” John said.

The Captain shook a finger in disgust.

“You are in a mind-control cult that convinces its victims that fantasy is reality,” he said. “The truth is Andre Slinger was no alien – he was a lackey for the New Moon Church. His job was to destabilize the choir mentally, so the singers lean on the church for emotional support.”

Grace nodded in agreement.

“Church donations must have gone up,” she added.

John sighed in disbelief.

“Everybody at the church is as happy as ever,” he said. “And I doubt it’s because they’ve made more donations. They feel good about being with the right people. And the choir has been doing better since Andre Slinger left – that’s why I’m inviting you to rejoin.”

Grace shivered with confusion. She knew in her heart that John would ask her to rejoin the choir, but she’d refused to believe it. She refused to even consider that John would do more than apologize for Andre. She was hoping for a nice and easy coffee meeting without any pressure, just a chat about how things were going, then good-bye forever.

And she’d brought Captain Jameson along to ensure John was escapable. The Captain was supposed to bail her out when John was getting too close. But the opposite had happened since the coffee meeting had started. The Captain had said that Grace and him were better than related, which kind of drove her crazy. She’d looked out the window and seen a UFO.

So hearing that her singing voice was missed almost brought tears to Grace’s eyes. It was ultimate comfort to hear.

“I haven’t felt like singing lately,” she said, “so it’d be a good thing to do. I want to feel good again. I want to feel the music again.”

John smiled harmoniously.

“You were perfect with us,” he said. “It was a marriage made in heaven.”

The Captain’s face burst with redness. His next book title flashed through his mind: The Cult in the Choir Competition. Oh yeah, The Captain was going to whip up 400 revealing pages and have it in bookstores before John could turn Grace into a brainwashed groupie.

A strange force entered the Captain’s mind – some kind of dark energy that rendered him speechless. He couldn’t have budged his mouth if he was a plumber at wrench auction.

And the force almost paralyzed him too. His body felt number than a rack of postcards in a jewelry store.

He sat silent while John picked up the Ruby Flower Brooch, and pinned it on Grace’s shirt.

“This flower will make you sing better,” he said.

Grace accepted with a surefire smile.

By now so much frustration had built up in The Captain, that the dark force could no longer hold him back. The words seeped out of him like water from a leaky dam.

“That’s a Ruby Flower Brooch, if I’m correct,” he said.

“Yes,” John said. “It’s quite beautiful.”

“Beautiful?” The Captain echoed. “Do you know who that brooch was named after?”

The choir conductor’s face soured with distaste.

“Nobody. It was named after a pretty flower that’s coloured like a ruby.”

The Captain cleared his throat.

“It was named after Jack Ruby, the gangster who killed Lee Harvey Oswald, and we all know who he supposedly killed. Grace, the reason why you’re wearing this brooch, is because it represents a conspiracy cover up. You must have seen things in the New Moon Church that they don’t want you talking about. The church has marked you, Grace. Your days are numbered.”

Like the flick of a switch, Grace’s mind was changed. She frowned at John, and removed the brooch from her shirt.

“Captain, I don’t know if your story is true,” she said. “But it makes singing in the choir seem boring. Actually, this brooch reminds me of some old Kenny Rogers song my parents used to listen to – what was it called again? Ruby, don’t take your love to town. Man that song can put me to sleep on a Roller Coaster.”

The rejection turned John’s face pale with anguish.

“If singing in the choir seems boring,” he said, “then what else are you going to do with your life?”

“I’d rather be sailing,” she said.

End of the Mysterious Bluffs Part 15.

Thanks for listening and stay tuned for the next part of Grace’s venture into darkness.