He stared directly into her emerald green eyes as he set her plate in front of her. By God, she was beautiful. Her smile was almost everything to him, just seeing her smile would turn a bad day completely around. Her pale skin was as soft as her voice which he compared to summer rains.
A pity, he thought to himself, that she has to die, for in her salad, disguised as lettuce leaves were the leaves of a plant, unknown to her, called the deadly nightshade. It was as nightmarish as it sounds.
Almost cherry-like, but similar instructors to the tomato, he disguised the fruit as blueberries. The dressing on the salad was made from the root of the plant, which he harvested at the end of the vegetation period, when the toxins would be the highest.
He watched with a false, realistic smile as she bit into her salad, closing her eyes to savor the sweet flavor of the toxic fruit. Symptoms wouldn't start immediately, but they wouldn't take long.
Once her symptoms started, she knew she'd been poisoned. First came the sweats and hallucinations, then the shortness of breath and trouble breathing, followed by paralysis and moments later, death.
After she had died, he got up and went outside through the back door into the cool night air. He inhaled deeply, the fresh air filling his lungs, then exhaled. He grabbed his shovel from the tool shed, and stabbed the ground.
Marc found himself on the road and hour later, after he decided to look into this. Lost in his thoughts, he almost didn't see the elderly lady crossing in front of him.
"Lord, almighty!" Marc yelled as he swerved, just missing her and hitting a parked car.
"Unbelievable," Marc snapped at himself. He got out of his car and slammed the door. "Unbelievable." He said again. "Use the crosswalk next time, you old bat!" Marc yelled, shaking his fist at the old lady who hurried across the street.
Marc took a deep breath and let out a long exhale.
Guy came into his dressing room overjoyed and very thrilled still from the standing ovation the troupe got at the end of Coppia Iniqua. He was so proud and thrilled with the performances. Knowing that he had another performance in three days’ time he immediately went into silence for vocal rest. However, after a tap on his door, the stage manager appeared with two policemen behind him. Guy looked up then realised he was not going to be able to sleep as early as he had hoped tonight.
“So you knew her Mr. Mauve?” inquired the inspector.
“Not personally no, Isabella and I, well we... shared a... common friend... she and I.”
“A male friend?” The inspector cocked an eyebrow.
“Yes, a mutual friend.” Guy responded.
“A fellow musician? And is he available for questioning now?”
“No, he isn’t part of the theatre company... he is not someone I knew well I’m afraid. We went out to dinner once or twice and she greeted him whilst we had our second dinner. I recognised her from work. She played the violin wonderfully and was always so impeccably dressed.”
“And who is that man Mr. Mauve?”
Guy gave them the name then said. “Will that be all gentlemen? Opera singing for four hours takes a lot out of you.”
“You’re part English Mr. Mauve?”
“Yes, my mother is English... how is that relevant?”
“We expect you to stay in New York until this matter is resolved.”
“I am not going anywhere anytime soon inspector, not with eleven performance to go.”
“Good... good night then.”
Guy watched the policemen leave feeling very surreal.
The crashing noise was soon followed by car door slamming and a man yelling. It didn’t feel right, given Mrs. Valente’s emotional condition…
Joseph dashed down the street and spotted the shaken old lady right away. Someone was yelling at her, and that man sounded familiar. Joseph squinted in the sun, then cursed under his breath.
“Hold it, hold it!” Joseph interjected as he rushed into the scene of the accident.
“Joseph?” Marc sounded surprised, “I thought you are with—“
“That’s another lengthy story,” which Joseph had no intention of going into. He grabbed the old lady’s arms in a gesture of concern, “are you alright Mrs. Valente?”
“Maybe it’s meant to be, maybe Isabella’s gone and I should go with her!” Large droplets of tear invaded the parched pavement.
“Valente?…. Isabella?….” Marc muttered under his breath.
“Rest assure I’ll find your daughter, Mrs. Valente, but let me take you home first.”
“But my car!” Marc piped.
Joseph tossed Marc his office keys, “You should watch where you were going Marc, you almost killed an old lady! Call the garage and take care of it. I’ll come back to pick you up in a few.”
Forty minutes later Joseph briefed Marc in his car on what he’d learned so far, “and on our way to her home, Mrs. Valente entrusted me with her daughter’s house key. We may pick up a clue or two from her home later.”
The day was becoming quite warm, not to Joseph’s liking. “First thing first, I’m heading to the Cornell Hospital to check on any Jane Doe admitted this week. I know someone there who can help me go through all the major clinics in the area.”
“Can you first drop me off at…” Marc examined the theatre flyer, “Metropolitan Opera House?” Marc explained about his lead.
“Good catch Marc!” Joseph nodded and took a right turn, “The theatre is on my way. I’m not sure how long I’ll be at the hospital, it really depends on whether I find anything, but I’ll meet you back at the Opera House as soon
but I’ll meet you back at the Opera House as soon as I can.”
Joseph stopped at a red and took out his note pad. “While you’re there, look for a…” He flipped the page to see what Mrs. Valente wrote down, “Margaret Goodman, a cellist. She’s a close friend of Isabella at the New York Symphony.”
Marc hopped off in front of Metropolitan Opera House as Joseph headed for Cornell. Joseph felt that fortune had rained on him for running into Marc. The missing person case seemed straight forward enough for now, but a little alarm bell at the back of his mine cried otherwise. Something was not right but Joseph couldn’t put his finger on it, yet.
If there was ever a word for Opera, it was boring. Marc was able to sneak in and score a seat without being seen, and without a ticket. Those tickets were expensive. Four dollars a ticket. His heart nearly stopped when he saw the prices.
Sneaking in the back wasn't exactly a walk in the park. The standing ovation at the end did provide the best cover.
Behind the stage was a maze of hallways and dressing rooms, racks with clothes, musicians, and photographers. Marc did all he could to make sure the press never saw his face. Last thing he needed was to be seen snooping around.
He found a dressing room with a gold star on the door, etched with the name Guy Mauve. He reached his hand to knock but stopped.
"This way, follow me," a man said. Marc saw him coming, followed by two detectives.
He opened the door to the next room and quickly surveyed the room. Empty. He waited and listened. Both officers stepped inside the room and closed the door. Marc looked around and snuck up the door, pressing his ear against it to listen. The voices were muffled from behind the door.
A hand grabbed his shoulder and she jumped. "Jesus!" He half whispered and half yelled.
"Can I help you?" She was young, not beautiful, but she was lovely.
"I'm looking for someone, by the name of Margaret Goodman."
"I'm Margaret," she said. "Is this about Isabella?"
She pulled him into the empty too next to Guy's.
"Have you found her?" She asked.
"I'm not with the police," Marc quickly explained. "I'm a private investigator looking into this, I'd like to help.".
"She's one of my best friends."
"When was the last time you saw her?"
"A week ago, or so, we were here rehearsing for this opera."
"How was she? Did she say anything to you?"
"No, she was fine, happy as always, but she said she was going out to meet someone. A man."
"Did he have a name?"
"I don't know. But I know she's really good friends with one of the actors here, Guy Mauve."
That explains why the police where there questioning him, Marc thought to himself.
"We're they intimate with each other?"
"No, but they shared mutual interests, and some other mutual friends. They got pretty close. I must be honest, I was a bit jealous of them spending time with each other.
She froze, as if she spoke to much.
"If you know something that might help us find her.."
"It's not that." Margaret said. "I...I wanted to be more than just her best friend."
Marc raised an eyebrow.
"It's complicated, I need to go." She started for the door.
"You loved her."
Margaret stopped and hung her head down. She turned and faced Marc, tears flooding her blue eyes.
"She didn't have the same feelings for me as I had for her, but she still called me her best friend. I never understood. I'm sure I know what you're thinking about me…"
"I don't frankly care about sexual orientations," Marc said. "I'm more worried about getting her alive, before it's too late."
"Guy Maybe." She said. "He was the last one to see her alive."
"How do you know that?"
She hurried out the door. Marc went after her but she disappeared. Marc wasn't a stranger to odd things happening. But this was different. An uneasy feeling sat in his stomach. He ducked around the corner and listened as the two police officers exited Guy's dressing room.
After the police left, Guy Mauve remained sitting there still feeling a dreamlike and uneasy sensation taking over him. Suddenly he heard his dressing room door open again, this time without a knock. A handsome man walked in, wearing an overcoat and a hat that made him look suspiciously connected to a branch of law enforcement.
“Mr. Guy Mauve?” The man began.
“Look... Sir...” Guy began. “I already told the other two policemen all I know-”
“Relax young man, I am not with the police. I’m a private investigator.” The man spoke calmly but firmly.
Tough but smart Guy thought. That did not particularly make him feel any better so he said. “And you are working for who exactly if not the police?”
“Isabella’s mother. Mrs. Valente. My name is Marc Lacrimosa.” Marc introduced himself.
“Well... Mr. Lacrimosa...” Guy Mauve considered this for a while. “That makes things slightly different.”
“I have just spoken to Margaret Goodman. She directed me to you and told me you and Isabella are close friends.”
“Yes, Isabella and I were close... I’m at least closer to her than Margaret can ever hope to be...” Guy shrugged. “But I played it down to the police for obvious reasons. I am an up-and-coming star in the field of opera and I would like my name to remain unblemished by this... disappearance.”
“Whatever you tell me is held in confidence. My aim is merely to find the girl.”
“I see.” Guy was still unsure he could disclose all he knew.
“You say two ‘were’ close Mr. Mauve?”
“Very close up until two weeks ago.” Guy spoke plainly. “I haven’t spoken to her since.”
“What happened two weeks ago?” Marc asked.
“Isabella and I were close friends and shared similar interests. In fact, we had the very same taste in many things. Men included.” Guy spoke frankly. “Of course, I could not share this fact with the police -with sodomy being illegal and all- but the fact is we both were seeing the same man two weeks ago and when we figured it... well let us say we both lacked the maturity to deal with it as adults do.”
Marc wrote something in his notepad. “Margaret Goodman says your closeness with Isabella made her jealous.”
“Unfortunately for her, Margaret is very much the jealous possessive type, but not over me that’s for sure. She wanted Isabella all to herself. She had that effect on people Isabella did. She made you feel like you were the only person in the room... and then left you alone in it.” Guy poured himself a hot cup of peppermint tea and took a sip. “Luckily for me I was immune to her charms, possibly why we became such good friends so quick. Of course, I did not approve of some of the men Isabella got on with. Very shady types. One of them looked like a character pulled straight from a gangster picture.”
“Do you know some of their names?” Marc asked.
“You must think us very silly fighting over a man like that.” Guy wondered whether or not he could safely share a name with Detective Lacrimosa. But then decided against it and instead he said. “Where are my manners! Would you like some peppermint tea detective? It’s very good for your vocal chords...”
Molly Maltese knew something interesting was afoot. Which, in her opinion, was unusual for a night at the Opera.
As an esteemed patron of the Metropolitan Opera house, she was invited to the previews of all productions, with the best box seats, of course. Usually, she didn't bother going... but she'd been terribly restless all day. So, she'd made a spur of the moment decision to attend the final dress rehearsal of Anna Bolena.
It was incredibly good, as far as operas went. She was quite transfixed by the character of Henry Percy in particular. More interesting to her shrewd eye was a commotion in the orchestra pit just before the show. The wild-eyed conductor kept gesticulating to an empty seat in the string section.
And perhaps even more interesting than that was a glimpse of her old friend Marc in a seat below, squirming and staring at the stage with glazed eyes during the opera. Molly had leaned forward with her opera glasses, staring unabashedly at him from high above.
For Molly knew several things to be true. One, Marc would never willingly go to an opera for fun. Two, he would never sit through two acts of arias and mournful gesticulating unless he was waiting for something important indeed. And since Marc never did anything he didn't want to do unless money was involved, Molly could only assume he was on the case.
"How perfectly fascinating." She murmured to herself, absently twisting her diamond necklace. And then, the heartfelt aria from the stage reached a crescendo, and Marc perked up. And as the audience rose around him in a standing ovation, quite suddenly Molly discovered he was gone.
"Now where have you got to, you sly devil?" Molly asked herself, standing with a polite clap. She raised her opera glasses again, scanning the perimeter of the room, and just caught the flash of movement and the nondescript door she knew led to the backstage clicking shut.
"Mm." The curtains swished closed, and Molly deliberated for just a moment before turning on her heel and sweeping out of the opera box and down the staircase, making a beeline for the backstage doors at the end of the corridor. The theater manager paused as he hurried past, and then gave her a deep bow.
"Mrs. Maltese, lovely to see you. Did you need assistance?"
She waved him away with a polite smile. "No, not at all my dear. I simply want to congratulate the cast on an entrancing performance!"
He bowed again. "Of course! Of course, I'm sure they'll be glad to hear it from you!"
And with that, he was gone, and Molly found herself in the curious hush of the backstage, where the noise and bustle of a performance had dimmed as soon as the curtains had swung shut.
She moved along the hall to the dressing rooms, pausing to listen. Just there! The rumble of voices, one all too familiar, coming from Guy Mauve's dressing room. Quietly, she pressed her ear to the door and listened, wondering what her old friend was up to.
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