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.
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.
"Mr. Mauve, I'm not here for tea, I'm here about three missing women, one them you knew personally. I'm not going to sit here and beat around the bush with you."
Marc pulled out his pen and wrote his phone number down on a piece of paper.
"When you're ready to give me some names, you can call me."
It was hard not to threaten to expose him. Mauve was obviously hiding something. Hypnosis was an option, but Marc pushed the idea in his mind away. Later.
Marc quickly opened the door, nearly running into Molly. "Excuse me, Molly," Marc said, not realizing who it really was. A split second later he did a double-take. "Molly! What are you doing here? Did you hear everything? Doesn't matter, c'mon." Marc said, talking fast. He led her outside, to the back of the building.
"Zeo should be here any minute. Three girls are missing, one of them is...was...a violinist here. Mauve is hiding something."
Each time Molly tried to talk Marc cut her off, updating her on the what he had learned, as they walked out of the alley.
Marc found a pay phone on the corner and put in a dime.
"Operator, give me records and information."
A moment later a female voice came through.
"I need an address on a Guy Mauve.".
He held the phone between his ear and his shoulder as he scribbled the address down. Just as he hung up, he saw Joseph's car pull up.
[Earlier in the day]
There was no Jane Doe that matched Isabella Valente’s description in the recent week. Joseph was not sure if he should be relieved or concerned about this lack of new discovery. The last time Mrs. Valente saw her daughter was about a week ago. So Isabella had been missing between 3 to 8 days. That was a huge gap, anything could have happened between then and now.
“If we find anyone that matches your description I’ll sure call you, Joseph.” Melanie assured him. As the head of hospital administration at Cornell, the only thing that was sharper than her mind was her acute sense of detecting public menace. That was why Melanie was so good at what she did. She also owed Joseph big time for the numerous occasions where Joseph helped “return” delusional patients, who may deem dangerous to the general public. These incidents, of course, were off the public record.
“We know at least 3 persons who went missing this month,” Joseph informed Melanie, “If any of them ends up in a hospital…”
“I will let you know.” Melanie cut in, knowing well how Joseph think, “they can possibly be related.”
Joseph smiled and nodded. He knew nothing escapes Melanie’s radar. As he headed to the elevator, Melanie added, “Actually there are four, at least.”
“Four?” Joseph turned around and looked at Melanie.
“People often overlook news about boys. Always the attractive dames that get the attention.” Melanie mused, “A young man, only 17 years old who still live with his parents, was missing since 3 weeks ago. The parents reported it to the police but they simply wrote it off as a runaway case. Typical.”
“Is that so?” Joseph jotted down the name of the young man and thanked Melanie for her information.
The sun was crawling down the horizon so Joseph knew the Opera had just started. He had no intention of sitting through a long singing show, not when Joseph was practically tone death. He still had two hours before meeting up with Marc. He looked at the address of Isabella Valente and the keys her mother passed to him. A visit to the missing person’s own home may reap some clues.
The young lady did well for herself. The small home was on a secluded plot of land, but not too far from the actions of the city. It was already getting dark. Joseph unlocked the front door and flicked on the light switch. Fortunately, the electricity was still running. Can’t say the same in another few weeks if Valante is not found, Joseph thought.
Isabella had elegant taste with her furnishings, and everything were neat and in its proper place. Photos of her performing on stage was next to her family photo. Everything were picture perfect. A meticulous search in the living room and kitchen turned up nothing. Joseph proceed to the bedroom. A sturdy music stand stood in a corner with a violin in the case next to it. The music sheets were circled and marked with neat hand writings. Joseph went through every piece of paper. Nothing out of the ordinary.
“Big wardrobe,” Joseph muttered under his breath as he opened the giant closet next to the bed. Isabella has many dresses, which Joseph really cared less about. He still do not understand why any one person need more than a few sets of clothing. Everyone’s only granted one body.
Nothing, Joseph signed. He took a last look at the room and turned off the ceiling lamp. Joseph paused. He turned the light back on. He went back to the closet again, opened it, closed it and looked around. Something didn’t add up. The cabinet should be much roomier than what the interior showed.
Joseph opened the closet again and reached in. After fiddling with the boards a bit, Joseph managed to slide open a hidden compartment. There was another violin case. “Must be a precious instrument to be so well hidden”, Joseph remarked as he opened the case to take a look.
Handcuffs? Isabella didn’t look like the law enforcement type. The cuffs were lined with fine leather. Two pairs of them. Then there was a few riding crops, and a cat o’nine tails. It suddenly dawned on Joseph what he was looking at.
After returning everything to its original place, Joseph quickly left Isabella’s turf to head back to the theatre. This “hobby” of Isabella’s may or may not be related to her disappearance, but Joseph doubted that they were mutually exclusive. “Wait until Marc hear this,” Joseph muttered as he stepped on the gas pedal.
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