• The Opera Lively Serial Novel Project - Chapter 7

    Chapter 7

    At last she awoke. As her eyes cleared, she sat up and looked around her. She was on a canopied bed, in a room with stone walls and a vaulted ceiling, filled with bouquets of flowers on ornate metal stands. From far away came the echo of a piano playing a mournful étude.

    She struggled to get to her feet. Where was she? How did she get here? Wherever it was, she had to get away. She had to get to Detective Lindstrom and tell her what Amelia Wells had confided to her before her death.

    Just then the music ceased, and she heard footsteps approaching. A key turned in the lock; the heavy wooden door opened. Into the room stepped a white-haired young man in a tuxedo and cape. He wore a domino mask that didn't fully cover the long red mark where the hair pin had scratched his cheek. In his arms was a familiar-looking bouquet: a dozen white roses, a single red one in the center tied with a black bow.

    "You! You're the one who's been sending me those flowers!"

    "Yes."

    "Who are you?"

    "I can't tell you that . . . not yet."

    He turned to place the flowers on one of the stands as she looked around.

    "Where are we?"

    "Someplace out of the way. Where you won't be found."

    "Are you . . . going to kill me?"

    He whirled to face her, his body language pained.

    "Kill you? Why . . . why . . . I would never harm you, Linda. Don't you realize? I love you. You're . . . my angel."

    She thought this was all becoming a bit too Andrew Lloyd Webber, but decided against commenting.

    "Why have you kidnapped me? And why did you bring me here?"

    "To protect you. You were in danger."

    "Danger? From who?"

    "The killer. The one who makes singers in their final performance die just like their characters."

    "But . . . that doesn't make any sense. I was in a comedy, for Christ's sake! Constanza doesn't die!"

    "But that wasn't your final performance, was it?"

    "Well . . . no. Just my last performance of that role. My final performance—at least for a few months, while I have my baby—isn't until three nights from now."

    "In what opera?"

    "Anna Bolena."

    It took a moment to hit her.

    "Oh . . . my . . . God!"

    She stared at him in horror. He nodded grimly.

    "Now you see why you're better off here."

    * * *

    The knock at the dressing room door made her look up, tired and pale.

    "Who is it?"

    The door opened partway to reveal a dapper, impeccably dressed middle-aged man with greying temples.

    "Francesca?"

    She gasped.

    "You!"

    Alberto Risi stepped in awkwardly. She peered at him in suspicion.

    "Are you investigating these murders, too?"

    "Yes."

    "And you've come to question me? I've already said all I could to that buffone, Detective Green."

    "I'm not here to question you. I'm here to see if you're all right."

    The softness of his tone caught her off guard. He moved to take a seat across from her, taking note of her costume.

    "You're still going to perform?"

    "Yes. That idiot general manager wants to pretend everything is normal. And we still have the big Tosca broadcast coming up. So . . . for now . . . the show must go on."

    She noticed his solemn look.

    "Something else has happened?"

    "Another incident. A singer has disappeared. Linda Freeman."

    Her eyebrows shot up. Turning away, she looked at her haggard features in the mirror.

    "Do you think . . . they want to kill me?"

    The detective frowned.

    "Someone said something about 'shoot the lady' that night. We've looked into it, but it appears to have been a bad joke. Anyway, it wouldn't fit the pattern. The killer stages his crimes to be just like opera deaths. Tosca isn't shot."

    He leaned forward as she turned to look at him.

    "Still, we must be careful. Until this is all over, no one is safe. Besides, I worry about you. I know you must be going through a lot right now, losing . . . him."

    Her expression turned suddenly hard.

    "Why should you care about me now? You, of all people?"

    He winced slightly. Then he reached out to place a tentative hand on her arm.

    "Whatever has passed between us, I still love you, cara."

    Before she could respond, Detectives Green and Lindstrom came bustling in. As Risi quickly pulled his hand away from Francesca's arm, he couldn't help but take note of Karen Lindstrom, with her chestnut brown hair, shape-hugging jeans, and tight blouse that showed off her ample bosom. He had also noticed the way the overweight, lumpish Green had been flirting with her these past few days. With a certain satisfaction, Risi thought to himself, yeah . . . good luck there, fella'.

    Lindstrom looked eager to share something, but Green spoke first.

    "OK, listen. I had a thought. Remember that note found in the first victim's hand? Maybe this Palmieri is someone he was trying to meet up with. That's why it said 'Come, Palmieri.'"

    Risi sighed.

    "Come Palmieri—it's Italian, a line from the opera. Referring to an execution that was supposed to be fake but was actually real. Just like what happened on stage that night. It's the killer's way of mocking us."

    Green looked crestfallen. Then Lindstrom stepped forward.

    "We do have another lead. A few days ago a fan on a backstage tour at the Lyric took this photo with her cell phone. In the background there you can see someone by the prop table, where the poison was. We've asked around, but no one can identify him as a stagehand."

    She handed him the photo. A muscular man, probably in his forties, with piercing grey eyes and a shaved head. For a moment, Risi couldn't figure out why the face looked so familiar. Then it struck him.

    "Oh my God!"

    "What?"

    "I've seen this man."

    "You have? Where? When?"

    "At the Grand. After Helga Graunstadt was murdered. I was looking at her corpse, when this same guy came up and stood next to me, dressed as a police officer. He made some tasteless remark about it not being over until the fat lady sings. I just stared at him, and he walked away."

    Risi peered at the photo again.

    "He was right there—looking at his handiwork, gloating, taunting us. And I let him escape!"

    No one spoke. Risi looked off into space, uneasy. He knew he wasn't being totally straightforward with his fellow investigators. He hadn't yet told them everything about the descendants of Napoleon—this heritage that was both a blessing and a curse. He didn't understand all of it himself, but some of the pieces were starting to fit together. And the way things were going, he might not be able to keep the secret much longer.

    Once more he stared at the photograph.

    Who are you? he thought. And what are you REALLY after?
    This article was originally published in forum thread: The Opera Lively Serial Novel Project started by Amfortas View original post


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