Great Countess! I'm looking forward to it!
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Thank you Ana for helping me! You were just what I needed!
Linda Freeman took a slow deep breath to relax her body and steady her nerves. Funny, she thought, how even after all her time on stage she could still get butterflies waiting to go on. The butterflies would be replaced with exhilaration, she knew, as soon as she stepped onstage. Or at least they normally would have, had it not been such a sad time for the opera world.
She felt on edge ever since she caught wind of the ‘accidents’. When the official reports went public a few days ago they all gave the same spiel. ‘A tragic accident’, ‘the details couldn’t be released’, or it was ‘still under investigation’, and perhaps the public believed that, but despite its international reach the opera community is tightly knit and much more sinister accounts were being spread through the ranks. The news of the deaths rocked Linda; these were people she knew, people she worked with. One of the singers, Amelia, was a dear friend of hers. She couldn’t quite believe there was foul play--who would want to murder Amelia?--but something Amelia had confided in her just before her death had Linda frightened. She hoped she would feel better after her meeting with Detective Lindstrom.
However that wasn’t all that kept her tightly coiled these days; there was also her increasingly fixated secret admirer, the one fan who seemed to always know where she was. She received flowers every day now, even delivered to her hotel rooms, the whereabouts of which should not be common knowledge. She was always too frightened to stay after she’d get the flowers, so she was constantly switching hotels. Following her from country to country it was always the same arrangement of flowers, a dozen white roses with one red rose in the center all tied with a black bow and a small card that simply said ‘your special admirer’. Except tonight, tonight she didn’t get any, which almost had her more frightened like a sudden change in the weather that signals a terrible storm.
It wasn’t unusual for an opera singer to have secret admirers but this one was different, this one had her constantly looking over her shoulder, always feeling eyes on her even when she was alone. The only place she felt safe anymore was the stage. Linda had to think about something else. She could feel her throat tightening from her anxiety.
She continued her breathing exercises, making sure her throat carried no tension. Then she mentally walked through all the stage blocking again. She, Blondchen, Belmonte, and Pedrillo were to make their escape attempt in total darkness with nothing but foot stamping and some sparse dialogue to move the story along. The escape scene always presented a challenge for directors since there wasn’t any music written for it, so Linda saw this as a tidy solution. ‘Just have to finish this last performance and then I’ll be free on my wonderful private vacation.’ She reminded herself of that while she waited on the platform by the window she would climb out of.
She had lost count of how many performances of Constanza she’d given. She regretted having to retire the role, especially since it had become her calling card, but she needed to move on and her voice was quickly changing due to the pregnancy. Constanza wasn’t as easy to sing as she once was, and now with the baby on the way who knows where her voice will take her. Linda put her hands on her stomach, just a hint of a bump, and her thoughts drifted to the baby’s father. Her throat tightened again.
No sooner said than done, on the stroke
of midnight the brave knight was there;
Gently she gave him her white hand,
Next morning her cell was found to be empty;
She was gone, up and away!
Shaking off all other thought Linda gladly became Constanza once more and peered around as if it was difficult to see the two men below.
She's opening up, Sir, she's opening up!
Pedrillo placed a ladder under the window and held it steady as Linda climbed down. She ran to Belmonte and embraced him, clinging to him, before delivering her line.
How anxiously my heart is beating! If only we can escape safely.
Next came Blondchen and then the lights went out leaving the entire theater plunged into darkness. They stamped their feet to indicate escape and Blondchen screamed. Osmin had found them.
As the bass projected his lines to the dark void where the audience was, she and Blondchen made their way off stage, but something stopped her. Linda felt someone’s breath on the back of her neck and a tug on her sleeve. Before she could remember who was where, a hand clamped a thick cloth down over her mouth while another came down around her waist. She kicked and stretched reaching for her colleagues; help was just a few feet away but it may as well have been miles. She felt as though her ribs would break. The assailant picked her up so her feet couldn’t touch the floor. She struggled silently but whoever had her was far too strong. The cloth smelled of chemicals, Linda realized as she tried feebly once more to escape; she was getting a strange numbing sensation in her fingers and her limbs felt heavy. Panicked she tore one of the elaborate hair pins from her wig and jabbed at the stranger before at last falling unconscious. Several minutes later the lights came back on.
My Lord, the most scandalous treachery in your palace?
The fine architect has abducted your lovely Constanza.
Osmin gestured towards the spot where Constanza was to be led in by guards and waited. Nothing. Strange, he thought, Linda never misses her cue.
“Detective Lindstrom here.”
“Yes, hello Detective. My name is Susan Parker, I’m Miss Freeman’s manager.” The manager’s voice cracked.
“Yes I remember. Are you calling about our meeting? Does she need to reschedule? I would really like to speak with her as soon as possible.” Karen didn’t like the tone of this manager’s voice; something was wrong.
“Well…that’s why I’m calling. It hasn’t been officially announced yet but…Linda was taken.”
“They told me they think there was a struggle because they found her hair pin on stage, the last place anyone saw her, and…it was bloody.”
The detective took a deep breath and released it very slowly.
“So she’s still alive? Was there a note or anything else at all?”
“The detective I spoke to would barely talk to me, he was so flippant! It was like he didn’t care!” She sounded close to tears.
“Ms. Parker take a deep breath, I need your help, ok? Now what opera was it, in English please?” Her sense of dread was almost palpable and she grimly knew a change in the pattern didn’t bode well. Was this kidnapping linked to the murders or were there two parties preying on opera singers now? This can’t be coincidence, she thought.
Detective Risi smothered a laugh as his fellow investigator loudly slurped down his pasta. He was glad to be out of that stuffy office. After hours of setting up interviews, tossing around theories, and endless calls the three detectives set out despite the hour to get a much needed meal. They found a nice Italian place that was still busy, where they continued their discussion.
“So in this song they realize they’re brother and sister and they still want to get married?” Green asked, mouth full, shaking his head.
Detective Green was a bit rough around the edges, Risi mused, but at least he was trying. He glanced at Lindstrom hoping she would save him from this conversation soon. She had excused herself to take a call and was looking quite agitated as she made her way to the table.
“Things just got more complicated.” She sighed, glancing at the two men.
“Well what happened now?” Green leaned forward, lowering his voice as Lindstrom took her seat.
“Linda Freeman, another opera singer of course, and possibly the only person with any idea why Amelia Wells was targeted has been kidnapped. In fact she was taken during a performance, right from the stage. I can’t believe it. She was going to meet me tomorrow. She said she had something to tell me about Amelia among other things.”
“Wait! Linda Freeman? What opera was it?” Risi asked. Green rolled his eyes; of course Risi would know who she was.
“The Abduction from the Seraglio. I’m going to meet with her manager right now. Tomorrow I’m going to try to speak with the lead investigator. You two are welcome to come along of course. From what the manager said this man won’t be very accommodating.” God knows I could use the help, she thought.
Only the positive!
Yay! Another chapter, and now we have a damsel in distress! Thanks, Countess! (I just hope you haven't had these sort of problems in your own budding career).
Ana, are you taking Chapter 7? I'm eager to see where the story goes from here!
Yes, I'm taking Chapter 7. Since I have no idea where the story should go, I'm just going to continue to muddy the waters, a bit.
And, if anyone else wants to jump in, the water's fine. Almaviva, when will you be back from Rhode Island? Note that all of us have survived the experience of writing chapters of the Great Opera Mystery Novel, and are healthy and happy.
I don't know, Ana, I really don't feel talented enough for this.
Don't you guys tempt me, lest I spoil the whole thing.
Because, see, I was thinking... the bloody pin gets taken to the lab... and then... brrrr... the blood isn't human!
Well this would complicate things enormously. Are we talking aliens? Or vampires?
You guys should probably stick with just a murder mystery... no science-fiction or the undead.
That's why you don't really want me.
May I suggest, though, some, you know, sex? It sells!
'cause we want this to be the next NY Times bestseller, right?
"J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)
OK, I'll continue to contribute with these bright ideas, without actually writing a chapter. So, here, let me introduce a preliminary list of suspects. They're from various countries, of course, since opera is universal.
From the USA, Mr. John Doe.
From the UK, Mr. Fred Bloggs.
From Argentina, Mr. Juan Pérez.
From Australia, Mr. Fred Nurk.
From Austria, Mr. Hans Meier.
From Belgium, Mr. Jan Janssen.
From Brazil, Mr. Fulano de Tal.
From Canada, Anglo side, Mr. Joe Blow.
From Canada, French side, Mr. Pierre Jean Jacques.
From the Czech Republic, Mr. Jan Novák.
From Denmark, Mr. Morten Menigmand.
From Finland, Mr. Matti Meikäläinen.
From France, Mr. Jean Dupont.
From Germany, Mr. Max Mustermann.
From Greece, Mr. Ένας Κάποιος.
From Hungary, Mr. Gipsz Jakab.
From Italy, Mr. Pinco Pallino.
From Japan, Mr. 何野 某.
From Korea, Mr. 홍길동.
From Lithuania, Mr. Petras Petraitis.
From Macedonia, Mr. Петар Петровски.
From Malaysia, Mr. Si Polan Bin Si Polan.
From Malta, Mr. Joe Borg.
From the Netherlands, Mr. Jan Modaal.
From Poland, Mr. Jan Kowalski.
From Portugal, Mr. Zé Ninguém.
From Romania, Mr. Ion Popescu.
From Russia, Mr. Иванов.
From Slovakia, Mr. Jožko Mrkvička.
From South Africa, Afrikaner side, Mr. Koos van der Merwe.
From South Africa, Anglo side, Mr. Joe Soap.
From Spain, Mr. Menganito de Cual.
From Sweeden, Mr. Medelsvensson.
From Switzerland, Herr Schweizer.
From Turkey, Mr. Sade Vatandaş.
From Vietnam, Mr. Người dấu tên.
I know, I know. I've considerably narrowed things down for our esteemed detectives. You're welcome. I'm always willing to help our brave law enforcers!
"J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)
I notice that all your suspects are male. But who knows . . . ?
So many questions, and so many ideas! Can't wait to read more.
Only the positive!
Love your new avatar, CountessAdele. Self-portraits are always a good choice . . .
Remember folks, everyone is encouraged to participate in this project. We'd love to have more people try their hands at continuing the story!
Let's say that any time a new person wants to contribute their first chapter, they automatically go to the front of the line.
That said, I'll tentatively put in for Chapter 8, unless someone new steps forward before Ana posts Chapter 7.
AnaMendoza isn't able to do a chapter right now (but still wants to participate). Since no one new has volunteered, I'll go ahead and write Chapter 7.
As always, new people are welcome to sign up for a chapter. Don't hang back, folks--it's a lot of fun!
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!"
"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?"
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.
Alberto Risi stepped in awkwardly. She peered at him in suspicion.
"Are you investigating these murders, too?"
"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.'"
"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!"
"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?
Last edited by Amfortas; March 26th, 2012 at 11:47 PM.