The following story was the first runner up entry in the first
Annual Sleuth Mystery Fiction Contest.
The Sound of Murder
by Rhiemma Moon
I woke that morning to sunshine streaming through my window and the sound of birds singing sweetly in the trees outside my window. This wasn't a day I usually went in to the office so I lazed for awhile before deciding to get up and go get breakfast. Things had been going my way for the last few months and I'd been able to afford to move out of that seedy little apartment in downtown New York to a nice little house in an upscale neighborhood near Central Park. Well, upscale for me anyway.
Finally rising and making ready for the day, I headed out of the house and up the street to a little cafe that served the best Eggs Benedict I'd ever had. Maybe today Hilda would relent and give me the recipe for that sauce. I was soon lost in thought and enjoying the beautiful spring day. Maybe I had gotten a little soft over the last few months. It's the only excuse I can think of for the events that left me without my favorite breakfast and working on my day off. And every day off for the next few weeks for that matter.
I had neared the cafe when a hand laid itself on my shoulder and whirled me around. Normally, something like that would have caused the arm attached to that hand to be dislocated and the body to which it was attached on the ground with my foot firmly planted on the throat. I'm not a large person, but I do know how to defend myself. Usually. This time I was taken so by surprise that I simply allowed myself to be whirled around to face a man who's face was vaguely familiar. My vacationing reflexes finally decided to kick in and I went into a defensive stance even as he backed away with his hands raised up. "I'm sorry!" he said as he backed away. There was a hint of desperation in his eyes as he looked warily at me. "You're Rhiemma Moon, right? The one that solved that case about the body in the river?" I nodded slowly. There were plenty of cases about bodies in the river, this was New York after all. But, I knew he had to be talking about THE case. That one still gave me the occasional nightmare, but it had paid very well and La Cosa Nostra now owed me.
"Get to the point," I growled. My stomach was growling as well and the smells coming from the nearby cafe were making it impatient. Desperation showed in his eyes again as he stepped forward and extended a hand toward me as if in supplication. I eyed the hand warily and he said, "Please, I need your help badly." At the word ‘badly' the mercenary side of me told my grumbling stomach to shut up. "Oh? Just how badly? This is my day off." The door to the cafe behind me opened and shut, sending a stronger waft of the wonderful food I knew could be had in there. My stomach uttered another complaint, which I ignored. The man's face crumpled a little as if he were near to crying. I've seen a few grown men cry, but it wasn't a pretty sight and I didn't want a repeat. Inwardly I sighed. "Who's been murdered?" I asked gruffly, "And what's the job worth?" That seemed to startle him out of his potential crying jag. "I," he hesitated and then rushed on, "I need your help because my brother has been murdered. You know how the cops are around here. They haven't got a clue and they're too busy eating donuts to go look for any." A ghost of a smile touched my lips. He was right about that. Even the horses had powdered sugar permanently ingrained on their lips. I took my notepad and pen out of my jacket pocket and scribbled a nice round figure on it, then tore it off and handed it to him. "That's my fee, plus expenses." I said in my most businesslike manner. He took the paper and looked at it. Nodding he reached into his inner pocket and drew out a thick wallet. As he counted out bills I regretted the sum I had written. I probably could have asked triple and he'd have paid it without question. I looked at his face more carefully, trying to place where I'd seen it. The features were fairly regular, even handsome by some standards. The deep blue eyes were the feature that stood out the best. The wavy black hair parted down the middle in the current style gave him a somewhat rakish look. As for the rest of him, I gave him nearly 6' and trim with broad shoulders. With his look, he could be an actor. A light came on inside my head and I knew where I'd seen him. He was an actor with that theater troupe down on Broadway. Harry something. I wracked my brain searching for more information. Ah, yes! Crownover. And he had a twin brother named Percy. They weren't look-alikes, but you knew for certain they were brothers. The Crownover brothers had become a big hit over the last couple of years. I was hoping the brother he was talking about was a different one. Another thought occurred to me as well. Why haven't I seen anything about this in the papers? My musings were interrupted when Harry handed me a wad of bills with his left hand and said, "That should cover you for now. If you need more it's here." I counted out the money and placed it in my jacket with my notepad and pen. "Thanks, Harry. Why don't you come along to my office and we'll sit down and get the whole story?" He startled at that. "Recognized me, did you?" I nodded the affirmative as I took his arm and moved us up the street past the cafe and toward my office. "It's my job to know these little things. Just as it's my job to wonder why I haven't read anything in the papers about your brother's untimely demise." He glanced at me and looked away again with a thoughtful look before speaking. "That cost me quite a bit of money," he said. "The last thing I needed was to have the theater swarmed with heart-broken, grieving women. My brother is… was," he swallowed before continuing and my calloused heart felt a tiny ping of sympathy. "My brother was quite popular with the ladies, as I'm sure you are aware." I nodded. I'd heard the scuttlebutt about Percy. Being the handsomer of the two brothers, he'd had a string of broken hearts a mile long. I wondered if Harry was the jealous type. It wouldn't be the first time a brother had killed a brother out of jealousy, Cain and Abel being the most famous of those cases. I had a momentary twinge of concern about my fee. He continued as we walked up the street, "I'm sure you're wondering if there was any jealousy between us." Bingo! I thought. "Well, no more than was normal between brothers. I didn't really care about his bevy of ‘beauties'." He leaned in toward me with an air of confidentiality, "You see, I'm married," he whispered. Well, bang goes that idea! I thought, although the cynical side of me held a few reservations. Actors were notorious for getting married and divorced. Still, this was a marriage kept secret and such secrets had reasons.
This little revelation was given just as we reached the door to my office and I took my arm from his to unlock the door. He opened it for me and followed me in. I indicated a seat, which he took with apparent relief. "Coffee?" I asked. He nodded the affirmative and I set about brewing a pot. While I busied myself with that he continued his story. "Percy has always been a rascal and a rake," he said sadly. "I was always the steady one. He was the one who wanted to get into the theater and nothing would do but we both have at it. So, I went along with him, never dreaming it would go this far. I met and married Mary shortly after getting our first parts on Broadway. We were so very happy although we discovered that it was too dangerous for her to have children. She has a heart condition that she takes medication for." He smiled tenderly at a memory and my calloused heart gave another twinge. There was a time when my heart wasn't so calloused, but that was before the divorce. A part of me would have liked to have had time for a relationship, and Harry seemed like a pretty decent guy. I shrugged that thought off nearly as soon as it formed. I'd learned the hard way that people in my line of work didn't do well at relationships. Harry continued with his story as I brought 2 cups of coffee on a tray with cream and sugar and a couple of stale pastries. It was the best I could do at the moment. Sitting in the chair opposite I listened as his story continued to unfold. "Percy had one girlfriend who lasted longer than all the others. Claire Bennett was her name." I took out my notepad and jotted down the name for future reference and continued to take notes as his story unfolded.
Over the course of the next 2 hours I listened and scribbled in my notebook. It was a tale that could have come right out of a dime store romance novel or one of those new moving picture shows. One fact stood out brightly from the rest. Percy had made not a few enemies. Topping the list with Claire were two women, one virtual unknown named Doris Peterson and the other was a common name in the tabloids. Victoria Cavallone was famous for her temper as well as her performance on stage. Harry finally wound down and sat back in his chair with a sigh. Running a hand through his wavy black hair, he looked at me with hope in his eyes. "You'll find my brother's killer?" he asked. I nodded as I went back over my notes looking for more questions to ask him. Looking up I said, "Yes. I'll find your brother's killer, but this could get expensive." He nodded and replied, "That's not a problem. If you need more expense money, just call me at this number." He handed me a card that bore his name and contact information. I noted that the number for the theater was on it as well. "All right, that's all I need for now. I'll have more questions for you later, I'm sure." He rose and took my hand in his, "You have no idea how grateful I am, Miss Moon," he said. I waved away the sentiment and said, "You can show me how grateful you are when this case is solved. For now, just be available if I need you." He nodded and flashed a brilliant smile as he went out the door.
My stomach picked that time to remind me that I had missed breakfast. Checking my watch I realized that it was now nearly time for lunch. I grabbed my jacket and headed down to Sami's. Gyros sounded pretty good right now, and I could go over my notes while I ate. Hopefully Maria was working today. We weren't exactly busom buddies, but I could usually get a little information out of her. Maybe she had some gossip that would turn into a clue.
Entering the restaurant, I found it to be busy, but not packed. Spotting an empty table in a far corner that wasn't surrounded by other patrons, I made my way to it, catching Maria's eye as I went. She nodded as she finished up taking another customer's order. I had just made myself comfortable when she arrived with a pot of java in one hand and the menu in the other. "What'll you have today, Miss Moon? Special today is the Mousaka," she asked while pouring my coffee and setting the menu down beside me. "That sounds great Maria," I replied as I reached for the sugar. "How's business?" She shrugged, "It's busy enough," she said looking around, "and not so busy I'm running my feet off." I grinned at her, "That's the best way to have it. Makes the day go by fast and the tips are still decent." She laughed at that, "Well, decent this week ain't quite up to par with a couple of weeks ago, but I make do." I sensed a bit of gossip in the offing and gave her the little nudge she needed to talk, "Oh? Do tell! Get a big spender, did you?" I asked, grinning. She looked around to be sure everyone was being taken care of, then slid into the chair opposite of me and leaned across the table with a confidential air. "Well, you know that actor, Percy Crownover?" I nodded, leaning forward in anticipation that was not at all feigned. "Well he and one of his doxies came in here one night for dinner." My eyebrows raised a little as I said, "Really! Which one?" She showed a wicked grin that matched the gleam in her eyes and replied, "That ex-girlfriend with the temper. Victoria something. Man! They had a row!" I sat back in surprise, "Oh? What were they fighting about?" She must have read something in my reaction because she suddenly got nervous and started to clam up on me. I hastily backed off the subject. I might need to talk to her again about this and I didn't want to push too soon. I also hated to have to bribe her this early in the case. I casually said, "Not that it matters. I'm sure the tabloids will have covered it quite well." She nodded an agreement and got up to return to work and her other customers. "I'll have your special here in a jiff, Miss Moon."
I spent the next hour going over my notes and enjoying the splendid Mousaka. I ended up with a happy belly and many more questions than I had answers. One of those questions I needed an answer to was exactly how Percy died. For some reason that bit of information was missing from my notes and I didn't recall it being mentioned. Looked like I needed to talk to Harry again. I paid the bill and left Maria a generous tip before leaving the restaurant and heading for the bus stop and Broadway. I figured my best bet would be the theater and I hoped to catch most of the people I needed to talk to there.
Arriving at the theater, I got out my old press pass and ignored the closed sign in the window of the box office. I figured the main doors would be locked, so I headed around to the side door every theater had. It was locked too, but I soon took care of that and was inside. Having covered a few of these events in my beginning years as a reporter, I knew my way around. I made my way through and quietly stepped through the door to the main theater. Sure enough, there were several people on the stage. Some held scripts and some were moving props and backdrops. A voice sounded behind me, "Who the hell are you and what are you doing in here?" Startled, I turned to see a short, stocky man in a security uniform glaring at me fiercely. Inwardly I was quite chagrinned. That was twice in one day that someone had snuck up behind me. I was slipping badly. Outwardly I calmly said, "I'm here to see Harry. He told me I could find him here." I also flashed my press pass at him. Apparently Harry had noticed us from the stage and called to the guard, "Oscar! It's alright. I was expecting her." Oscar gave me another look that told me his suspicions had not been relieved, then motioned me down toward the stage. I grinned and obeyed.
As I approached the stage everyone looked at me with a mixture of curiosity and boredom. Harry came down to meet me and took my arm to guide me off to a more private place to talk. There I asked him bluntly, "Harry, the one thing that is very blatantly missing from all the information that you gave me is the method of Percy's killing. How did he die?" He looked slightly flustered by the question and I became wary. "Well, that's actually somewhat of a question still." Alarm bells went off in my head, "Oh? And just why is that?" I asked. He ran a hand through his hair as he answered, "Well, it's this way. He was poisoned, shot and stabbed. The coroner hasn't decided yet which of the three actually killed him." I looked at him in surprise. This was getting to be a pretty interesting case and it looked like I was going to need that coroner's report as soon as it was done. "Alright, I need to see the crime scene. And I will need to speak to those 3 women who's names you gave me." He nodded and replied, "That won't be a problem. He was murdered in his dressing room here. The police came in and looked around, but didn't find anything." I rolled my eyes. "Gads, I hope they didn't destroy any clues or evidence!" Harry shook his head, "No, actually they didn't do much of anything. Seemed to think that there wouldn't be anything to find." "Alright, take me there. And then you can introduce me to the ladies," I said with a hint of facetiousness. He grinned at me then gave a slight bow as he gestured me through the door.
As he had said, the crime scene looked virtually untouched. I systematically went over the room with a fine toothed comb and came up with a couple of hairs that looked like they came from two different people, a thread from a man's clothing. Several minutes later I found a note in the desk drawer that appeared to be written by a left handed person. I looked at the hairs again and noted that one of them was straight and blonde, and the other was curly and black. The curly black one made me think of a certain fiery tempered ex-girlfriend of the deceased. I'd have to go see the barber, Octavia to be sure, but I had a hunch I was right. Still, there could be any number of reasons for these little bits of information. At one point in my search I swabbed a glass with a liquid residue in it. Since Harry had mentioned poison as one of the ways Percy had possibly died, I figured I should run a sample of whatever was in his last drink down to the chemist. Harry had waited and watched as I went about my work and now straightened from the doorway he leaned against. "All done?" he asked. I nodded, "For now. I may need to come back, so please don't touch anything, okay?" "Sure thing. I really don't like being in here anyway." He looked sadly around the room and seemed near to tears again. I hastily put away my equipment and ushered us out of the room. "So, you're going to introduce me to these lady friends?" I asked. He nodded and thought for a moment. "Victoria is probably in her dressing room. She seldom comes out except for scheduled rehearsals and parties." He chuckled ruefully and added, "Or boyfriends." I smiled and casually said, "I heard a rumor that she and Percy had a bit of a row over at a Greek restaurant called Sami's not long ago." He started with surprise at that, but hesitated before he answered, "I didn't know anything about that. I didn't even know he liked Greek food. And as far as I knew he hadn't seen Victoria in anything but a professional capacity since they broke up 6 months ago. I'm afraid I can't help you there. As for the ‘row' as you call it, knowing them it was probably nearly a knockdown drag-out fight." He shook his head then said, "They always fought. The women loved him and he loved it. She hated it and was terribly jealous." He stopped in front of a door bearing Victoria's name with a large gold star on it and knocked. A muffled voice sounded from within and he opened the door and stepped in with me right behind him. She lounged on a sofa wearing silk pajamas with a magazine in her lap and a drink in her right hand. Her curly black hair was loose and fell around her shoulders. She looked up and nodded at Harry then frowned when she saw me. "I don't like visitors, you know that Harry! Especially now!," she said as she sat up. The magazine slid to the floor where she ignored it. Harry raised a hand and said, "Vic, this is Rhiemma Moon. I've hired her to find Percy's killer." Victoria snorted in a rather unladylike manner. "Let the cops handle it, Harry. That's what we pay them for." She continued to eye me with displeasure and I could tell I wasn't going to get much out of her. I decided to go straight to the point. "Miss Cavallone, I only have a couple of questions for you if you wouldn't mind. First, I need to know if you know anyone who would want to harm Percy." She looked from me to Harry and finally answered, "I can think of a couple of people right off the bat. One of them is Doris Peterson. She was really jealous of the women who came after her and swore that if she couldn't have him no one would. Another one would be George Davidson. He was Percy's understudy for years and wanted to be a big time actor himself, but ended up staying in Percy's shadow. He was pretty jealous of him. That's all I can think of right now. I'm sure there's more, but I'm not going to do your job for you." I nodded as I wrote down the information she had given me. "I just have one more question for you. Where were you on the night Percy was killed?" She jumped up and stormed across the room yelling, "I don't have to put up with this! I'm not answering any more of your stupid questions!" I quickly assessed the situation and decided she was not the type to be intimidated. I spoke in a calm and soothing voice, "Of course you don't. But, these are just routine questions. I'll be asking everyone else the same ones. I mean, it's not like you're Guilty or anything. I just have to have it for the record." She calmed some then and thought for a moment. "Alright. Fine. I was at the Tricky Mister. I went there to meet some friends but got tired of waiting for them and came home not long after." I nodded as I wrote in my notebook and thought something just doesn't ring quite true about that. Closing my notebook, I pocketed it and said, "Thank you, Miss Cavallone. You've been very helpful. I hope I won't have to bother you again." She waved a hand at me and I turned to go. Harry stopped for a moment and spoke with her as I headed toward the door, then followed me out. When her door closed I asked Harry, "So, where can I find the others?" Harry looked thoughtful a moment then said, "Actually, I believe everyone is here that you need to talk to. Let's go back to the stage and I'll see what I can do about getting you a moment of their time." I spent the next 2 hours talking with everyone but Doris Peterson. Seemed she had bowed out of this production and was taking a vacation for her nerves. When I was through I headed back to my office to review my notes. I had gotten Doris' address from Harry since she wasn't there for questioning and planned to stop and talk to her on my way.
I found her house in a cozy little neighborhood in Queens. When I knocked on the door I discovered that apparently there was no one home. After checking around to make sure no one would spot me, I decided a little larceny was in order. I picked the lock and entered, locking the door again behind me. A few minutes rummaging, after I found the desk, revealed some notes in a little address book and a pawn ticket. Seems she had a date with the Fortune Teller around the time of Percy's murder. Looked like I was going to have to take another side trip down to the Gypsy camp by the pier to visit Thomas Lee. I jotted down the information and pocketed the pawn ticket. Never knew when some little item might come in handy. I was just headed back to the door and out when I heard a key rattle in the lock. I quickly made an about face and headed for the back door I had spotted when I first looked around the place. A quick look around and I was out and strolling casually down the alley.
I returned to my office and sat at my desk to go over my notes. I'd been at it most of the day and needed some time to get organized. Pulling my large note pad from a desk drawer, I started the process and finally came up with a list of suspects so far and their alibis. So far it looked like Victoria was at the bar so I'd need to go visit Cyrus. Doris had an appointment with Thomas, the Fortune Teller. I would need to talk to her though to see what she might know about the case. Claire had given me one new name and an address for him. Seems Edmund Keane, the Box Office Manager, had been seeing Victoria before she dumped him for Percy. George was pretty helpful as well and I could tell he wasn't grieving any for the deceased. His list of names was familiar with the exception of one. Monica Young was an up and coming young starlet who was having a secret affair with Percy. Seems George had caught them in an early morning tryst in Central Park. I put her name with Eddie's for people I still needed to talk to. I added a column on my list for alibis and realized I had a growing list of businesses to check. Apparently Claire had been getting her hair done, Doris needed some spiritual guidance from Thomas, Victoria was having drinks at the Tricky Mister and George said he was being measured for a suit. Thaddeus Kobayashi owned The Twisted Thread. He and I had become pretty good friends so I had no worries about getting information from him. If George had been there he'd tell me. Speaking of friends, I remembered I needed to stop by the Meaty Treat and talk to Sylvia. The last time I had checked the walk-in refrigeration in Omega's kitchen, I noticed that I had enough meat for my cougar, Priscilla for another 3 days. And while I was at it, maybe Sylvia knew something about all this.
I looked over my list one more time, then headed for the elevator and back out to pound some more pavement. I noticed on my way out that Catherine, Omega's receptionist, was gone for the day. Jeff, the blonde one of the two burly guards, saw me coming and opened the door. I nodded at both of them as I headed down the steps, preoccupied with questions I needed to ask. My first stop needed to be at the chemist's to drop off the sample I'd picked up at the crime scene. I had a hunch that the poison was in the residue from his last drink. I made a mental note to also ask Harry again about getting a copy of the coroner's report. With this many choices for the cause of death it would be integral to my investigation. As I hadn't found a knife or a gun at the crime scene, I also needed to know where those had gone. I really hoped the cops didn't have them. They'd probably never be seen again. Then again, I had a pawn ticket that just might be a lead to one of the weapons.
I arrived at Doris' door again and knocked. This time there was the muffled sound of footsteps and I knew I'd timed it well. She answered the door and I introduced myself, explaining that Harry had hired me and why. She smiled and opened the door wider to invite me in. "What can I do for you, Miss Moon?" she asked. I followed her into the living room of her tidy little home where she politely offered me a seat and sat down opposite. "Well," I began, "I need to know if you know of anyone who disliked Percy enough to kill him." She laughed at that and replied, "There were many people who would have been happy to put him out of their misery. Between the many lovers, ex-lovers and ex-boyfriends of those the list could be endless. There's also one other that I think no one but me knows about." She sat back with a smug smile on her face. My eyebrows rose at the revelation. If this was true, then I would be expanding my suspect list by one. "Really! And who might that be?" I asked. "Someone I'm sure no one would think of suspecting," she said with a touch of malice. "I mean, who would suspect such a quiet little mouse of a thing as Mary Crownover of having an affair with her husband's brother?" I hid my surprise at this little tidbit and asked, "What makes you think they were having an affair?" She hesitated for a moment, then said, "Well, I had been trying to talk to Percy for several days, but he never had time for me at the theater. So, I followed him one day, hoping to catch him at dinner somewhere. Imagine my surprise when he went to this little Greek place and there waiting for him was Mary. They hugged and kissed right there on the street! People think she's such a sweet, quiet little thing and what she really is is a brazen hussy! And an adulteress!" she said with angry contempt, then added, "I waited for them to finish eating and followed them to a hotel on the other side of town. I didn't wait around after that. I knew what they were doing, but I also knew that no one would believe me." I scribbled in my notebook as she finished and looked up to find her glaring at me. I decided that I had probably gotten all I was going to get from her for now. Rising I said, "Thank you, Miss Peterson. That's all I need for now. Hopefully I won't have bother you again, but do you have a number I could call you at in case I do?" She reached in her purse that was on the table next to her and took out a small pad of paper and a pencil. I noticed that she was left handed as she wrote down a number then tore off the sheet and handed it to me. "I hope not either, Miss Moon. I would like to put all this behind me for good." I nodded and added the paper to my pocket with my notepad and pencil. "I'll show myself out. And thank you again." She nodded absently as I turned and left.
As I headed up the street I thought to myself, poor Harry. If he has no clue about this it's not going to be good when he finds out. I hated to be the one to tell him. Then again, it was entirely possible he knew and had killed his own brother over it. I mulled over what I had learned and decided it was time to talk to Harry again and while I was at it, his wife, Mary. I caught the bus and headed for that side of town hoping that one or both of them would be home.
I found Mary at home but not Harry. I was rather glad of that as it gave me an opportunity to talk to Mary alone. After introducing myself, she invited me in and offered me coffee while we sat and talked. She seemed a little nervous and was continually toying with something. I got around to the subject at hand and she became quite agitated. "I'm sure I know nothing at all about this. I don't see why you're asking me anyway." She said almost belligerently. Inwardly I sighed. It looked like she was going to clam up on me before I'd even got to the first real question. I replied, "Because I have to ask everyone these questions. It's all routine. And you wouldn't want people to wonder why you weren't asked all the same routine questions do you? They might think I suspected you and didn't want to scare you away before I could prove it." Not quite the truth, but maybe she'd believe it and cooperate. Apparently it worked since she grudgingly gave me some names of people she thought might have motives. Unfortunately, she didn't give me anything I didn't already have. When I asked her where she'd been when Percy was killed she told me that she had music lessons that day and was at the Cacophony Conservatory with the music teacher, Angela Caban. I knew Angela. She had been my first teacher when I started learning to play the violin. I wasn't that impressed with her teaching style and had soon found another teacher. We were still on speaking terms, but she didn't feel she owed me anything. I hoped she'd cooperate without a bribe since what I'd already paid her in bribes over the last few months would have paid for lessons for 10 people for a year.
The next one on my list was Rex Watson, an ex-boyfriend of Claire Bennett's. He wasn't home, so I committed a little larceny once again and discovered he had had an appointment with the same tailor George used. That was going to help shorten the amount of time I was spending on this case. Edmund Keane however, I found at home. He was a man of average height and build with wavy, blonde hair. Not bad looking, but he was no Percy Crownover. Or Harry Crownover for that matter. He invited me in, but seemed in a hurry to get somewhere. I said, "You seem in a hurry to get somewhere, Mr. Keane. Please don't let me keep you, I can come back another time." He shook his head with a hint of agitation. "No, no. I want to get this done and over with. Let's just be quick about it, shall we?" Inwardly I breathed a sigh of relief as I wanted to get this done as fast as possible myself. Outwardly I was all business. "Tell me what happened on the day Percy was killed." He paled a little at that and ran a hand through his hair. "Well, I don't know much. I had gone to lunch with a friend and was supposed to meet her for drinks at the Tricky Mister a little later, but she didn't show. So then I went home and found out the next day about Percy." I nodded as I jotted in my notebook, "And what time was it that you went home?" He flushed a little and began to look a little stubborn, "Mr. Keane," I said, "I'll find out anyway. Let's just make this easy on both of us, okay?" He sighed and the tension seemed to run out of him. "I don't remember when I got home. When Vic didn't show, I guess I had a few too many. All I remember was being at the bar and waking up at home the next day with a doozy of a head." Vic, I thought, now where have I heard that name? Ah, yes! Harry called Victoria Crownover ‘Vic'! "Vic, that would be Victoria Crownover?" I asked casually. "Yeah," he replied, "We were supposed to meet again later for drinks, but she didn't show. She told me later that she had been held up and was running late. Said she showed, but I was already gone." He shook his head in confusion. "My understanding is that I was there pretty late, so I don't know if that's true or not. I'm kinda thinking she led me on." I nodded as I scribbled. This put a bit of a twist on things since she had said she was at the bar when Percy was killed. I'd need to verify this with Cyrus, but it was beginning to look like I was on the trail to the killer. I wasn't counting the chicks yet, though, I had more people to talk to. I thanked Edmund for his time and left him standing on his doorstep looking worriedly after me.
The last person on my list was Monica Young. She answered her door and reluctantly invited me in. It appeared she'd been crying for some time as her eyes were red and swollen. She dabbed them with a handkerchief as she led me into the living room of her home. She waved at a seat and said, "What do you want, detective? There's not much I can tell you." I looked at her speculatively then said, "Well, I do know that you were seeing Percy before he died." She paled a little at that but gamely replied, "What of it? Me and a score of others, I'd wager. I'm not a complete fool. I know I wasn't the only one he was seeing. But, I had hoped…" She broke of with a small choke and raised the handkerchief to her eyes once again. A little overdone, I thought, but not too bad of a performance. I said, "I need to know if you know of anyone who wanted him dead. And I need to know where you were when he was killed." She gave a little gasp of surprise and exclaimed, "I didn't kill him! I loved him!" I refrained from saying ‘you and a score of others' and said instead, (for the umpteenth time), "I'm asking everyone the same questions, Miss Young. It's all part of the process." She sighed rather dramatically then told me she was getting her hair done. In fact, she had run into Claire Bennett there and talked with her for quite awhile before Claire had left. She gave me a list of names, but none of them were new to me. Seemed that she might be on the up and up, though I intended to check with Octavia to be sure. I left her to her handkerchief and headed back out onto the street.
My intention had been to check on all the alibis I had for the names I'd been given for potential suspects. I decided to make a little side trip and stop in to see Harvey Patersmythe at the Coroner's office to see if I couldn't get my hands on that report. Actors lived in their own sense of time and ‘soon' could be anywhere from tomorrow to next week sometime. I didn't care to wait that long and maybe I could hurry things up a bit. Harvey and I went back a long way. He'd been in medical school specializing in Forensics when I was taking courses in Criminology. We'd taken Forensics together and had been lab partners. It wasn't an easy course for a woman, especially since the teacher didn't believe it was a woman's place to be in the line of work I was pursuing and I was the only woman in the class. Harvey had taken me under his ‘wing' and kept the worst of the teacher's contempt at bay along with a few others of my classmates. That had fueled not a few rumors in itself, but I'd grown a pretty thick skin by that time and Harvey had remained a good friend.
I entered the Coroner's office a little while later and waved my way past the receptionist. I knew where I was going and didn't need to answer a bunch of questions only to be told I needed an appointment. Harvey was just coming out of the exam room and removing his gown as he walked toward me. "Rhiemma! Is this a social visit? Or are you here on business?" Grinning, I said, "I wish I could say social, Harvey. But, you know how it is." His grin faded into a grimace, "Yeah, I do. Who are you onto this time?" "Percy Crownover," I replied, "How are you coming on his report?" He sighed, "I just finished him. That one should peak your interest. Wanna take a look?" "Sure!" I replied, "You can fill me in while we're at it and I won't have to read your manuscript." He grinned at that. Harvey was known for writing reports that were thorough enough to qualify for novel status. We entered his exam room and he pulled the sheet back from a face I recognized from the billboards at the theater. I was putting on a gown as he pulled the sheet the rest of the way down the torso. I noted two wounds in the chest area. On the right side, a little high and to the right of the heart was a gunshot wound. It appeared that he was shot at a fairly close range as there was powder residue around the wound. On the left was a one inch wide gash indicative of a stab wound. Looking at the stab wound, I asked Harvey, "How deep?" He replied, ‘About 3 inches. Another inch to the right and it would have nicked the artery." I nodded and remarked, "And the gunshot wound looks like it well missed anything fatal as well. So, it had to be the poison." Harvey nodded, "Got it in one. You haven't lost your touch, Rhie. Sure you don't want to go into Forensics?" I grinned, "Nah, I don't like writing that much." He laughed and shook his head. "I never understood why you had to go chase criminals when you could have worked in nice surroundings like these!" He gestured at the room around us. I grimaced and said, "The company is a little lacking in conversational skills." Harvey shook his head, "Oh, they talk. You just have to know the language." I shook my head, chuckling, "You're a strange man, Harvey," I said. He smiled then reached past me to the table littered with equipment and papers and tapped a thick stack of papers. "You want to take this with you to read?" he asked. I looked at the nearly inch thick stack and shook my head, "No, thanks. Let the courts read the manuscript. I don't have the time right now." I removed my gown and handed it to him, "Let's have lunch sometime, Harvey. You need to get out of here once in awhile." He smiled, "That would be nice, Rhie. We'll do that." He turned to replace the sheet over the stiff and I knew I had lost him for the time being. I doubt if he even noticed I left.
The rest of that day I devoted to verifying alibis. I checked with Cyrus and found that Edmund had indeed been at the bar when he said he was. Victoria however, was not. Or rather she had been there, but it was long after the time of the murder. Since I was in the area, I decided to drop down by the pier and talk to Thomas Lee. He was as ambiguous as ever. He did tell me that Doris hadn't been there that day. "I sense a multiplicity in this situation, Miss Moon. There are many portents and you are nearly at the crossroads of justice. It might be time to seek an additional ally." I slipped him a twenty and thanked him. Musing over his words I came to a decision that I would act on once I had checked out everyone's alibis. Thaddeus was next on my list and as helpful as ever. We chatted a bit as he showed me his appointment book. Seems that George was there just like he said he was. Rex, though, had missed his appointment. He recognized the thread I had as belonging to George. Considering that George was Percy's understudy, it wasn't surprising that a thread had made it's way into the room where Percy died. I made a note of it and thanked Thaddeus for his help. I decided to continue the circle I was making and stopped in the bank to see if I could get a handle on the note I had. Ruby was seldom friendly, must have something to do with all that money she handled. I finally got her to tell me who's hand-writing it was, but it cost me. Things were getting interesting and I was pretty sure who the killer was now. But, I needed to have this case sewn up tight, so I headed uptown to see Octavia. The barber shop was pretty busy, but she had a moment to talk to me. I showed her the hair samples I had and asked her about Monica and Claire. "Funny you should ask that. Because the hair samples belong to just those two. See," she said pointing, "This one is Monica's and this one is Claire's. I do their hair often enough I can tell pretty easily." I thanked her for the info and we exchanged a little gossip before I left. The last place I needed to go was to see Angela at the Cacophony. It was blessedly quiet for once as I entered and found her pouring over a musical manuscript. She nodded at me with professional courtesy, but didn't greet me with open arms. I decided that there was no point beating around the bush. "Hello, Angela. How's business?" I asked. She shrugged, "It's busy enough. You still playing?" I nodded, "I have a teacher in Shanghai, although I've been back in New York for about a month. I'll resume study when I get back." She nodded, "So, what do you want?" I replied, "I need to know if Mary Crownover is taking lessons from you." She looked at me in surprise, "What are you doing that you would need information on her?" I quibbled, "Oh, it's a murder investigation, but she's not a suspect. I just need to verify where everyone was when it happened. I'd heard she was taking lessons and thought she might have been here." Angela shook her head, "She hasn't had lessons for a couple of months. She phoned and said that her heart condition had worsened and her health just wasn't up to it right now. She's such a quiet little mouse. I can't imagine her being involved in anything like that." I assured Angela that this was just a routine round of questions. We talked a little more and I said thanks and left.
I went over all of my information in my head as I headed back downtown. I planned to make one more stop, make that two and then there was one more person I needed to talk to. By then, I thought I would have all the evidence I needed. A light had clicked on in my head while talking to Angela and I now had two questions of the chemist. When I got there he gave me the report on the substance in the sample I had provided him. I asked my other question and he looked at me rather strangely, but told me what I wanted to know. It was all falling together now. I had one more item to pick up and that was at the pawn shop, I hoped. It was. Armed with my evidence I went to the police station and asked to talk to Lt. Lauren Daily. Of all the cops I knew, Lauren was probably the most honest. I was surprised he had made it to lieutenant in the homicide department considering all the graft and corruption he had to work around.
I told Lauren what I had and showed him the report I had picked up from the chemist. I also showed him the little item I had gotten from the pawn shop. He nodded and said, "Let me make some arrangements. "Oh, and this one," he pointed to a name on my list, "You might want to check the logs on him. I think he might have a valid alibi." I nodded and headed for the logs while Lauren made his arrangements. There is was in black and white. Rex might not have been at the tailors, but he wasn't in Percy's room either. Why a guy like that had to go to a brothel was beyond me. And a place like Esmerelda's to boot. I shook my head as I closed the log. That at least cleared him of murder.
Lauren came back and told me that he'd made all the arrangements. We were to meet at the theater in an hour.
I headed across town and took my time. I needed him to get everyone gathered so I could make one more inspection on the crime scene and one other room. I arrived in plenty of time and found everyone already gathered on the stage. I ducked back and went to Percy's room and found what I was looking for and then went into Victoria's. It didn't take me long in there either. I slipped the evidence in my bag along with all the rest of my gleanings then headed for the stage.
As I came through the door and approached the stage, Harry saw me and left his wife's side. Lt. Daily had been deep in conversation with the uniformed guard I had met the first time I was here. He looked up as Harry approached me. He seemed a little bent out of shape as he said, "What is the meaning of this, Miss Moon! I hired you to find my brother's killer, not drag an entire troupe and my ailing wife into this performance of yours." I held up a hand and replied, "I am aware of that, Harry. But you need to just let me tell this story, okay?" Lt. Daily stepped up then and ushered Harry back. "It looks like everyone is here. I'm sure Miss Moon will let you all know what's going on now." I nodded and waited for everyone to give me their full attention.
I began, " I apologize for the necessity of bringing you all here. There is a purpose in it. I do want you to all know that I have been busy checking your alibis." At that a couple of faces went pale and Rex groaned. "You, Mr. Watson do have a valid alibi, even though it's not the one you gave me. You might want to reconsider some of your habits." He looked away from me and went to a chair and sat down. I then turned to Doris, "It's not really a smart thing to miss your appointment with the fortune teller. He might have told you not to come back to the theater and use this." I had slipped the small dagger I had found in her room into my hand and suddenly flung it to stick in the floor between her feet. Several gasps were heard and Doris nearly fainted. George caught her and held her up for a moment and then let go. But, I wasn't done yet. I then turned to Victoria, "You might have been at the Tricky Mister as you said you were, but you weren't there at the time you said you were." I pulled a little 32 Special out of my bag and checked it for shells. Victoria gasped and said, "That's not mine! I don't have a gun!" I replied, "Oh, but it is! Clever of you to pawn it and then leave the pawn ticket in Doris' desk." Doris gave a gasp of outrage. "Unfortunately for you, the pawn broker has a very good memory and you fit the description of the person who pawned it." Victoria collapsed in a heap and began to cry loudly. I snorted, "Cut the theatrics, sister. It just won't work. Besides, Percy was already dead when you shot him." I turned back to Doris, "And he was already dead when you stabbed him. But, you both knew that. The real question is now, who DID kill him?" Rex spoke up from his chair, "And I hope you are finally going to tell us this! Some of us have work to do." Harry glared at him and he subsided. I looked at Harry with pity in my eyes and he started like a horse set to with a whip. "I didn't kill my brother! I couldn't have." I sighed. "No, Harry, you didn't. According to the coroner's report, Percy died from poison. Strychnine to be exact. The same medication your wife is taking for her heart condition." I took the note from my pocket and handed it to Harry. "I had the handwriting analyzed, but I'm sure you'll recognize it." As Harry read the note I turned to Mary, "How long were you seeing him, Mary? Since you cancelled your music lessons? Or were you seeing him before that?" She said nothing, only glared at me. Harry turned back to her, his face white, "Mary, how could you?" He held the note out to her, "You killed him because he wouldn't make your relationship public? Or did you kill him because he wouldn't kill me? I don't understand." My heart went out to him then. He'd never understand how his sweet, quiet Mary could have such a cold, mercenary heart. Lt. Daily stepped up and pulled her up to her feet. Come along, now, Mrs. Crownover. I think we have a nice room for you downtown. As he led her by me she stopped for a moment and looked into my eyes. It was like looking into the eyes of a snake. Cold and emotionless. I shuddered inwardly, but met her eyes without flinching. She then turned away and the remaining suspects began to wander off. I heard the guard comment, "It's always the quiet ones."
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