• The Opera Lively Serial Novel Project - Chapter 9

    Chapter 9

    Quale occhio al mondo
    può star di paro
    all'ardente occhio tuo nero?

    The new tenor was not so able a vocalist, or nearly as photogenic, as Marcello Gui. Still, he wasn't bad for short notice, and was holding up reasonably well under the added pressure of a live broadcast. The Opera Goes to the Movies series, far too lucrative to pass up, was going ahead as planned.
    Standing amidst the bustle of video technicians stage right, Detective Risi scrutinized the first-act love duet.

    Mia vita, amante inquieta,
    dirò sempre: "Floria, t'amo!"

    As he watched Francesca receive the tenor's protestations of love, Risi couldn't help but feel his own heart stir at the recollection of their troubled history. It was the sadly typical story of an older man and a beautiful, vivacious younger woman. The betrayals had all been on her part, but perhaps for that very reason she had put up a defensive wall in his presence, as if he were somehow to blame.

    But he still cared for her deeply, and worried about her performing under this spotlight. The media had declared the recent deaths no more than a series of freak accidents, which only made Risi all the more apprehensive. Given the killer's modus operandi, it was clear he craved an audience. He would want to proclaim his handiwork to the world—and what better opportunity than a live broadcast beamed to theaters around the globe?

    Detective Green approached him with a somber expression.

    "Karen's keeping watch stage left. We've got police at every entrance and exit, all over the backstage area, and out in the house. If he shows his head, we'll get him."

    Risi wondered. Yes, they had taken every precaution: Green had checked the props; Lindstrom had vetted the stagehands; Risi himself had inspected the padding on which Francesca would fall at the end of the performance. But their prey was elusive, given to disguises. Based on the photo, Francesca had identified him as the strange, silent stagehand who had made her so nervous. In another wigged guise he was the flippant "investigator" Linda Freeman's manager had dealt with shortly after the kidnapping. It seemed their enemy could be anyone, anywhere . . .

    As the detectives watched the performance, a tall man in a well-tailored suit walked up to them.

    "Detective Risi?"

    Risi nodded in annoyance, shushing the man. But the intruder went on in an insistent whisper, with a perceptible English accent.

    "I understand you're leading the investigation into Linda Freeman's disappearance?"

    "That's right."

    "And what exactly are you doing about it? It's been two days now, and here you are backstage at the opera! I demand an explanation!"

    Risi turned to eye the man coolly.

    "May I ask who you are, sir?"

    "My name is Robert Freeman."

    "You're . . . her brother?" Now he noticed how the man's dirty blonde hair and strong features resembled the photos of the missing woman.


    "But Ms. Freeman is American. And you're . . . ?"

    "We grew up apart. I've lived overseas, and we only met this past year, after I moved to the U.S."

    "So then, it's questionable whether you're entitled to any information on this case as an immediate family member."

    The man's eyes burned in fury; he spoke with barely controlled emotion.

    "Listen, you can't put me off. This is far too important. Linda may be in terrible danger! And not only that—do you realize that she's three months pregnant? Her baby is at risk as well!"

    Something about the urgency of the man's tone put Risi's investigative instincts on full alert.

    "No, I did not know. And this child . . . am I correct in assuming . . . that you are the father?"

    Freeman was caught up short. For the first time, he seemed unsure of himself.

    "It's . . . complicated."

    He broke off and looked away, shuffling his feet uneasily.

    "Oh wow," Green murmured. "It's just like that opera."

    * * *

    She was lost.

    There was no doubt about it. She had been wandering the stone corridors for what seemed like hours, following their winding paths. But the labyrinth only seemed to draw her in deeper.

    From an open door at the end of one corridor came the sound of piano music. She quickly turned to go back the other way.

    But from that direction came the sound of hurried footsteps approaching. The shaven headed man—maybe he was looking for her!

    There were no other options; she had to choose one path or the other. Taking a deep breath, she turned back and entered the doorway.

    He sat at a grand piano, his back to her, still wearing his tuxedo and the mask he had never removed in her presence. He played a Beethoven sonata, his shoulders flexing and body swaying from side to side, his fingertips transmitting a plaint so impassioned, so full of loss and pain, that it resounded somewhere deep in her most secret being.

    Finally the movement ended. Without looking back at her, he spoke.

    "I knew you took my keys. But they won't do you any good. You'll never find your way out of here by yourself."

    Strangely mesmerized, she took a few steps forward to stand beside him.

    "That was beautiful. Please . . . play something else. Play . . . play Chopin."

    He raised his hands, held them hovering over the keyboard. They remained in place for several seconds, then balled up into tight, trembling fists.

    "What's the matter?"

    For a few more seconds he hovered in paralysis. Then, suddenly, he let loose with a cry wrung from the very depths of his soul:

    "I can't play Chopin étude!"

    He burst into racking sobs, then threw himself against the sheet music. Taken aback by this display, she stood there, uncertain what to do. Finally she sat next to him on the bench. His body pressed against hers for comfort, and before she knew it, she was holding him, cradling him in her arms.

    "Shhh . . . shhh . . . don't cry . . . it's all right . . ."

    Somehow, even before she realized it, he was holding on to her with a fervor she had never known. As he raised his masked face to hers in entreaty, their lips came together, melting in a kiss. Her eyes closed, her head fell back, as she felt herself given over completely to the moment . . .


    The cry was punctuated by a sharp crack. John screamed, then fell to the floor in pain. Linda looked up to see the shaven man glowering at them, brandishing a bullwhip.

    "You can pine over her like a lovesick schoolboy all you want," he growled, "but I won't allow you to pollute our bloodline with this whore!"

    "Father, no!"

    But it was too late. The villain had the whip around her neck and was dragging her, kicking and screaming, out the door.

    * * *

    Vittoria! Vittoria!

    The tenor had hit his stride by now and sang the passage with real conviction, earning enthusiastic applause.

    As he watched, Risi reflected on the scenario: the joyful response to news of Napoleon's decisive victory at the Battle of Marengo. Now, more than two centuries later, some of the emperor's descendants were squared off in a deadly struggle of their own.

    So far tonight, though, all had been uneventful. Green was off somewhere further questioning Freeman. On stage, Bruzzini, the fat Scarpia, was pawing Francesca at every opportunity, as usual. During the intermission he had created a brief stir, announcing to the general manager, once again, that he would quit after tonight if he was forced to perform with a murderer on the loose.

    But the performance went on. Francesca's "Vissi d'arte" was especially beautiful this time. When she intoned "perché, perché Signore," asking God why she had been subject to such tribulations, it seemed born of a deep and genuine suffering.

    Now the second act was almost over. Risi would just have to keep an eye on her during this last intermission and the short final act. Maybe he had been wrong to fear for her. Maybe all would be well.

    The big dramatic moment arrived. Scarpia moved to embrace her, licking his lips.

    Tosca, finalmente mia!

    She turned and lunged forward, stabbing him at close quarters.

    Questo è il bacio di Tosca!

    He staggered back, yelling for help.

    Aiuto! muoio!

    He fell back convincingly. She stabbed him again, crying out in triumph.

    Ti soffoca il sangue?

    It seemed that the performance was going exceptionally well. Then something went very wrong indeed.

    Tosca's question was more than just a rhetorical flourish: it appeared that the man really was choking on his own blood. At the same time, Francesca was somehow unable to draw back the hand holding the retractable dinner knife. Her efforts only made Bruzzini bellow even louder.

    Finally, with a supreme effort, she pulled the prop away from his chest, and the very real, non-retractable blade that had been lodged between his ribs slid out, followed by a crimson fountain. As Bruzzini's features contorted, he spat blood all over the diva's face and chest, then toppled backwards in a heap. Francesca screamed, causing the orchestra to trail off, one instrument at a time, into silence. The crowd in the darkened auditorium murmured their distress.

    To the astonishment of audiences watching live in theaters around the world, Detective Alberto Risi rushed on stage and took the sobbing Francesca Crivelli in his arms.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: The Opera Lively Serial Novel Project started by Amfortas View original post

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