"Elizabeth? Elizabeth, it's time to go." Her father had been sitting at the front of the box since the interval, because Lizzie had been feeling peaky and said she would probably need the loo halfway through the second act, but now she was nowhere to be seen. She must have crept out during the performance. Oh, drat that girl! Just when he thought she was enjoying herself and she ran off - who knew where she could be now?
He ran out of the box, leaving his coat behind as he did so. Lizzie's was there too, so they would have to go back for them. He couldn't be carrying them around. As he dashed down the stairs, he asked various people if they had seen her. "A little girl. Ten years old. Slim, with dark hair. Have you seen her?"
"What was she wearing, sir?" asked one man, who obviously worked for the theatre. "I'm afraid I don't remember seeing anyone, but I've only been here for ten minutes and the guy on the shift before will have left by now."
"A - a denim skirt. And a white shirt with flowers on. I think a blue cardigan..." He was out of his depth when it came to clothes. "I don't know where she is. She must have snuck out of the box during the performance, but I don't know where she can have gone. I've got her train ticket."
"Have you looked around the theatre? She's probably just gone to the toilet or something."
"No, she promised me she'd tell me before she went."
They went down to the lobby and looked around, asking the people in the box office if they'd seen Lizzie. None of them had. "I'm Jack, by the way," said the man, smiling at him.
"William." They shook hands and carried on looking.
Finally there was only one place left that they hadn't looked, and William berated himself for not having thought of it sooner. Backstage. He had seen the look on Lizzie's face during the dancing - of course she would have sneaked away to find the dancers! Where else would she be?
But she wasn't in the wings, nor was she at the barre just a metre away from the edge of the stage, where the dancers would warm up during the performance. She must have gone down to the dressing rooms, William thought, and he and Jack tripped lightly down the stairs to find her. Somebody must have seen her ... she couldn't have gone far.
"We're looking for a little girl. Her name is Elizabeth. She's disappeared. Can you tell us where she has gone?"
Nobody could say they had seen her. The dancers asked various questions and looked in their dressing rooms, but all came out saying that they had seen no one. Eventually, William was forced to give up. "I'll have to phone the police if she doesn't turn up soon, of course. I can't just let it go."
"Why don't you leave her train ticket in her coat pocket in the lobby? That way if she IS hiding, when she comes out she'll be able to get home. You can go back to your wife and explain what's happened, and it'll all be fine."
William didn't bother to explain that Lizzie's mother was in Australia - it was all too complicated. Instead, he pointed out that Lizzie was only ten and couldn't get the train home in the middle of the night.
"I'll send someone to escort her," promised Jack, leading him out of the theatre. "But I'm afraid members of the public really can't be in the theatre at this time. It's too late and the dancers have got to go home too. If you leave your number with me I'll call you as soon as she's found."
"Will you? Oh, thank you so much..." Gushing with relief, William wrote down his phone number on a scrap of paper and handed it to the man. As soon as he and Jack had left, a small girl poked her head out from under a dressing table...