• The Opera Lively Serial Novel Project - Chapter 4

    Chapter 4

    Heiajoho! Grane!
    Grüss' deinen Herren!


    Her face beamed with an ecstatic fervor as she addressed her imaginary horse.

    Siegfried! Siegfried! Sieh!

    Turning to her fallen beloved, she raised her arms in triumph.

    Selig grüsst dich dein Weib!

    The heavyset woman gathered herself, lifting the hem of her long, sweeping robe off the stage floor. After a moment to catch her breath, she charged forward, then leapt onto the pyre. With a loud rush, a burst of flames surrounded her.

    * * *

    "I didn't know they use real fire."

    "They don't."

    The young, wiry technician pointed to a battery of machines set up in a ring around the pyre.

    "This is what they're supposed to use."

    He moved to the controls, touching them as he explained.

    "Fog machines. Produces a carefully directed cloud of steam. The lighting makes it flame-colored. But it's harmless."

    "And what actually did happen?"

    The technician pointed to a different area. Hidden behind one of the support beams, a wooden box was attached to the underside of the stage floor, painted the same neutral black to blend in. The young man ripped one of the boards away to reveal an ominous device, like a rifle, attached by a thin tube to a pair of canisters in what looked like a backpack. The muzzle was rigged to point directly at the pyre.

    "Flame thrower. M9A1-7. Military issue, used in Vietnam. Hard to come by these days."

    "How was it fired?"

    "That's the clever part. See this casing here? It was modified, engineered to go off by remote control."

    "So it could have been triggered from . . . anywhere?"

    "That's right."

    The technician turned to his left.

    "Hell of a mess."

    He glanced down at the still-smoking remains. The smell of charred flesh was overpowering. Shaking his head, he walked away.

    Detective Alberto Risi remained under the stage, looking down at the corpse. The short, dapper, middle-aged man had witnessed the crime from his balcony seat. A season ticket holder, he would not have missed the chance to see Helga Graunstadt in her final performance as Brünnhilde, before asthma, aggravated by weight problems, forced her retirement. It was sad. Graunstadt always carried her heft with diginity. Now she lay there like a badly overdone side of beef.

    A uniformed officer sidled next to him, looking at the body with evident distaste.

    "I guess it's over."

    "Excuse me?"

    "You know . . . the fat lady?"

    Risi gave the man a withering stare, causing him to slink away.

    The detective was still looking thoughtfully at the corpse when his cell phone rang.

    "Hello?"

    "Hello, Detective Risi? This is Detective Joe Green."

    There was a short pause.

    "Is this some kind of sick joke?"

    "What do you mean?"

    "Your name."

    "What? Oh, that. Yeah, I get that all the time. Joe Green. Like the old Hall of Fame linebacker for the Steelers. Only he spelled his last name with an 'e' at the end."

    "That's not what I . . . never mind. What can I do for you, Detective?"

    "Frankly, I'm not sure. I'm only calling you because some hotshot young female detective called me. She somehow got word that she and I had similar cases."

    "How so?"

    "Well, I'm over at the Memorial Opera House, investigating the death of a Marcello Gui. He's an opera singer . . . a tenor, I think."

    "Yes, yes, of course I've heard of him. But you're telling me . . . he's dead?"

    "Yep. Then I got the call from this detective Karen Lindstrom over at the Lyric, where a different singer, Amelia Wells, looks like she was murdered tonight as well."

    "What? Wells dead, too? But that's . . . that's . . . "

    "I know, weird, huh?"

    Risi thought a moment.

    "These other singers . . . tell me, Detective . . . how exactly did they die?"

    "Well, that's the really strange part. My guy was shot onstage, right at the end of the opera. Apparently in the story he's supposed to die by firing squad. But before the show, somebody tampered with the rifles backstage, replacing the blanks with real bullets. And the other singer was killed at the end of that opera. Something about Dido and a niece. She's supposed to drink poison . . . well, from what they tell me, sometimes she just dies of a broken heart, but in this one they used poison. Makes more sense, if you ask me. Anyway, looks like somebody slipped something lethal into the cup. And I hear that your woman at the Grand was supposed to throw herself into a fire that turned out to be real. I guess, anyway. I don't know anything about opera."

    "Thank you for clarifying that."

    "There's something else, too. Even though he wasn't all that old, Gui was about to give up opera, he and some other singer, a . . ." There was a pause, apparently while Green fumbled with his notes. "Francesca Crivelli."

    Detective Risi's eyes went wide. Oh God . . . Francesca . . . involved in this too?

    Meanwhile Green rambled on. "Wells was also about to retire. And I hear yours was giving it up, too?"

    "Yes . . . for health reasons."

    "Right. So, it looks like, what we've got here . . . Someone is targeting opera singers giving their final performances, making them die just like their characters. Only for real."

    The little man's thoughts whirled. Since there was no response, Green went on.

    "Crazy, isn't it? I've been interviewing suspects, not making any progress. Only clue I've come up with—not even sure it means anything—is this photo of a guy in a costume, some kind of old-fashioned uniform, with his hand stuck inside his jacket."

    Risi suddenly felt his throat tighten. As he spoke, he tried to keep his voice even.

    "Detective Green, you and this Detective Lindstrom and I should meet. There's something . . . I need to tell you."
    This article was originally published in forum thread: The Opera Lively Serial Novel Project started by Amfortas View original post


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