There are a lot of different reactions people can have to seeing a dead body. From screams, fainting, and vomiting to silent, wide-eyed shock. Then there’s the sort of reaction the jaded and the unimaginative will show.
“Want I should go get a mop?” Frank, one of the stagehands, asked staring at the widening puddle of red-stained water under the body that was sprawled on the stage.
“Better leave it for the police to clean up.” I suggested.
“I don’t think Boss Stone’s gonna want the cops crawling around his club.” Herman, another of the stagehands, said.
“I don’t think he’s going to want to explain why he hid a dead body he had nothing to do with.” I replied.
“What makes you think he ain’t the one who capped this schmuck?” Frank asked.
I rolled my eyes. I knew Frank wasn’t the brightest bulb out there, but I’d assumed anyone who worked for Boss “Eddie” Stone would know when to keep his mouth shut.
“Frank, even if your Boss were ever to find himself at odds with the law, which we know would never be the case for a fine upstanding man like him, what possible reason would he have to screw up a show and bring the heat down on his own place?” I asked.
“Oh yeah. He’d just dump the body off a pier.” Frank said, smiling and nodding. He was happy to have kept up with part of what I said, even though he’d missed one of the more important points I was making. I sighed. Frank was a nice guy. He’d been good to work with when we’d been setting up our water tank escape trick, so I didn’t want to see him get hurt. Keeping him out of trouble though wasn’t looking too promising though. Not that I was doing a great job of protecting anyone on Earth-Glass. The dead guy was sort of evidence of that.
Rick Shurman P.I., had been an ex-cop who’d gone into private practice after a shoot out had left him with a bum leg, bad memories and a bit too much fondness for Kentucky bourbon. Way and I were playing amateur detective, which meant information gathering mostly. Neither of us were phenomenally wealth but we had enough to afford to hire outside help to do some of the legwork for us. That had seemed like a great idea at the time. Someone apparently disagreed though.
“I don’t think the show’s going to be able to continue.” Way said.
“Not if the cops lock the joint down.” Herman agreed.
“Stone’s gonna be steamed about that.” Frank said.
“You girls should beat it before he gets here.” Herman suggested.
“Won’t the police want to talk to us?” I asked.
“Yeah, that’s why he’s not gonna want you here.” Herman said.
“We don’t want to get in trouble with the law.” Way said. The slight quaver of fear in her voice was another demonstration of her acting prowess.
“We’ll tell ‘em you went all weepy and had to leave for a constitutional.” Herman said with a wave of his hand to cover our concerns.
“Thanks. Let Mister Stone know that we’re still interested in auditioning though ok?” I said, the eagerness in my voice was only partially an act. I didn’t particularly care about the audition, but it was a nice routine we’d worked out and a part of me wanted the chance to finish it up. Plus we still had a lot of digging to do and it would be easier if we didn’t have to break-in after hours to find everything we were looking for.
By the time Way and I slipped out the backdoor of the Chimera Club, the other acts that were set to follow us had gotten word of what had happened and were making their way out of the club too. In the press of performers that were exiting the building, it was easy to merge into the crowds passing by on the street. Way caught my sleeve and glanced up to the roof of the building across the street. I nodded and we crossed the street to head down an alley that we’d scouted before the show. The only remarkable thing about the alley was a fire escape that was out of view from the street. Using that we got to the top of the building which put us far enough from the people below that we could talk freely. It also placed us at a vantage point to watch the audience of the Chimera Club exiting the building.
“Did you see anyone in the rafters?” I asked as we settled in to observe the people leaving the scene of the crime.
“No, I was paying too much attention to the audience. What do you think happened?” Way said.
“Shurman was supposed to meet me after the show if he discovered anything. Looks like he found something.”
“And then someone found him.”
“Yeah. Someone professional. Did you see how much blood there was?” I said.
“Yes, too little for a head wound like that. He was dead before he fell.”
“And we didn’t hear a shot during our performance so he was shot somewhere else too.”
“Carrying a dead body up into the rafters would have been difficult, Shurman wasn’t a small man.”
“And people would have noticed.” I agreed.
“Maybe not Frank, but you’re right, with all the people backstage someone would have seen something.” Way said.
“Unless the murder happened on the roof and the killer only had to bring the body down to the rafters from there.” I suggested.
“That fits. What would Shurman have been doing on the roof though?” Way asked.
“Lured up there somehow? With his leg, there’s no reason for him to go to the roof on his own, but if he thought I wanted to meet him there for privacy I could see him climbing up and being taken unawares.” I said.
“Someone would still have heard the shot though wouldn’t they?”
“Maybe, but it would be distant enough they could write it off as a car backfiring. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of people who “remember” hearing something when the police ask, but I’ll be amazed if any of them can provide any useful info on when it happened or where it came from.”
“That leaves us with the questions of why they killed him and why they dropped the body on the stage.” Way said.
“I don’t think we have enough info to work out why they killed him yet, but there’s only one reason to drop his body like that. The killer wanted to send a message.” I said.
“Whoever hired him. Meaning me. A little warning that we shouldn’t be looking into this. I’d bet the killer doesn’t know who we are though. If they did, they’d have shot us too, or followed us when we left the building.” I glanced around to make sure there weren’t any gunmen lurking in the shadows of the rooftop.
“Why drop him on the stage if they didn’t know you’d hired him?” Way asked, still puzzled. I saw an idea flash to life in her eyes. “The killer knew to lure Shurman to the roof because he knew Shurman intended to meet his employer at the Club. He expected the employer to be in the audience. How would the killer know that though?” Way said.
“I think we need to get to Shurman’s office. Now, before the police lock it down. I’m betting we’re going to find that someone’s been there before us.” I said.
“What about his home?” Way asked.
“Might be something there too.” I said, frowning.
“So do we split up and each take one?” Way asked.
“I’d rather not.” I admitted.
“Me either.” she agreed.
Unspoken concerns filled the passing seconds before we shook off the worries we held about problems that had no place on Earth-Glass. Tomorrow’s problems would have to wait in line behind the more serious and immediate issues at stake.
“Let’s hit his office first. It’s closer and the cops will probably lock that down first.” I said.
Way nodded her agreement and I saw Boss Eddie Stone’s tank of a luxury car glide up to the entrance of the Chimera Club. For a “tough guy” Eddie Stone wasn’t actually that big. At average height and average build, he appeared on the tiny side compared to the goon that got out of the car with him. The slab of muscle that walked beside the crime boss wasn’t belligerent but he didn’t need to be to part the crowd. He just walked and people cleared a path the same way they would for a locomotive. I’d seen bigger guys, much bigger guys, but not on Earth-Glass.
As Boss Stone followed his henchman to get into his club, I saw him run into Madelaine Deckard. She was Guy Mcintyre’s secretary and principal assistant. Also one of my number one suspects in his disappearance and possible murder. I was too far to hear anything they said over the buzz of the street traffic but even from a rooftop away it was clear that neither Stone nor Deckard were happy to see each other. Their brief exchange left Stone shaking his head and Deckard clenching her fists. I lost sight of Stone a moment later when he passed into the Chimera Club. Madelaine, on the other hand, was easy to see stomping down the street. Anger radiated out of her posture and every movement as I watched her quicken her pace and turn down a side road towards one of the nearby parking lots.
“That was interesting.” I said.
“Think we should follow her?” Way asked.
“No. We’d need an ‘in’ to talk to her and right now would be a bad time to make one. She’s going to be too on guard at the moment.” I said.
“Let’s get to Shurman’s office then.” Way suggested.
A quick climb back down the fire escape and one taxi ride later, we pulled up in front of a diner near Shurman’s office. I tipped the cabbie enough to make sure that if he remembered us, he’d also remember that the diner was right next to a bus stop that would take us back to our flat on Fairbanks Island. No one would be surprised that two up and coming theater girls would be living in the low rent district that Fairbanks Island had become and nobody would wonder why we hadn’t paid for a cab ride the whole way there. Apart from the distance, cabbies levied an automatic surcharge for the “bridge toll” on any ride to Fairbanks. The “bridge toll” was really more an “I don’t want to get robbed again so don’t make me go there” fee and for the most part the people who had an interest in going to Fairbanks weren’t the type who could afford any extra fees in their lives.
Time was precious so rather than ordering something in the diner for the sake of appearances we headed straight to Shurman’s office. It wasn’t terribly late at night but anything after sundown meant the offices in the city were largely closed up. We didn’t bother to check front door of the building. It was too visible from the street. The side door however did not have the problem. It was locked as well but a nail file, a bobby pin and ten seconds of lockpicking remedied that problem handily.
One of the benefits of being a stage magician was that “The Amazing Jin” had all sorts of useful talents, like lock picking, to draw on. I kept the nail file and bobby pin handy to use on the door to Shurman’s office but, as I’d expected, they weren’t needed. The door was closed, but from the shattered wood around the handle it had clearly been forced. A light push was all it took to send it creaking open.
The blinds hadn’t been lowered in Shurman’s office, so the glare of the street lights showed us the disarray the office had been cast into. It looked like a hurricane or a small bomb had hit the furniture and scattered the contents of his files everywhere. Even the padded mat on the cheap bed frame that rested in the far corner of the office had been torn to shreds.
“You were right. Someone’s been here.” Way said.
“And it looks like there’s someone still here. Two someone’s in fact.” a voice from behind us said.
I whirled around to find a man in a police officer’s uniform standing behind us in the hallway. He had his service revolver out and pointing directly at me.
“Now why don’t you ‘someones’ start explaining why you broke into what is clearly a crime scene?” he said.