by Lorie Lewis Ham
Murder At the Movies is an original short story written by Lorie Lewis Ham featuring the main character from her novels, gospel singer Alexandra Walters. This series is set in a fictional version of Reedley, California. Check the previous week for Part 1. Learn more about her books on her blog.
Before I could make my way up to where Stephen was standing, there was another scream from the same location as the body. Stephen and I rushed over and a chill ran down my spine at what I saw, or didn’t see. The body was gone.
“Did anyone move the body?” Stephen queried.
Everyone shook their head or said no. This was just too creepy. I felt an urge to look for Rod Serling. “Did anyone see someone move the body?”
Again everyone said no, but then the audience had pretty much moved to the other side of the theater after the murder. I couldn’t blame them.
Stephen examined the seat and I dropped to the floor to check for clues. I found something. It was a piece of paper, and without thinking about prints, I picked it up. I must have had a very odd expression on my face judging by the way Stephen looked at me. I merely handed him what I had found taped to the floor, a white piece of paper with words typed on it that left me speechless.
“Why the son of a —.”
“Stephen!” I interrupted.
At that moment the Donlyn PD finally arrived, flashing badges. “Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, Detective Freeman here. I hope you have enjoyed tonight’s surprise performance by some of Donlyn’s local theater group. A performance of Sunset Boulevard will be taking place at the community center in two weeks, proceeds benefiting the police benevolence society. Refreshments are being served in the lobby and the movie will resume in twenty minutes.”
I was blown away and just sat down on the floor. Everyone seemed startled but then someone started applause, which was followed by excited conversation and a movement toward the lobby. Stephen helped me up and we followed. In the lobby, I noticed Mrs. Swanson’s smiling face, a glass of wine in hand, no doubt recounting her story.
Rick stood near the front door and Stephen shoved the paper into his hand. It was the first time I’d ever seen the detective blush. “Sorry guys, guess we took it a bit far. But it’s for a good cause.”
“What if the person who found the body had died of a heart attack?” asked Stephen, not smiling.
Rick grinned and his glasses slid down his hawk nose a bit. He shoved the piece of a script I’d found into his pocket. “She’s one of the actors. We tried to plan it all out so no one would get hurt and just get a kick out of it, once they learned it was all an act.”
I wadded up my program and threw it at our dead man as he strolled toward us. “You look awfully good for a dead man.”
“Sorry, Miss Walters. I worked in special effects and makeup in Hollywood for several years before trying my hand at acting. I can fake a pretty good knife wound. If you had checked closer, I’m sure you would have figured it out. Perhaps I can make it up to you with dinner sometime.”
Stephen slipped a possessive arm around my waist and I nearly blushed. “Not unless you want a real knife in your back.”
I smiled. “What about Doctor Masterson? He checked for a pulse. How could you fake that?”
At that moment, Masterson walked up, a blush enveloping his pale face. It seemed a night for blushing. “I always wanted to be an actor and I think I did rather well. Sorry to fool you, Alex.’
I never imagined the tall, mild mannered man who had delivered Jessica, as an actor. “Excuse me; I need to talk to someone.” I slipped from Stephen’s arm.
Donlyn’s new Sergeant of Detectives, William Knight, had just strolled into the room decked out in a tux. I had to admit he looked quite good all dressed up. Of course I’d never tell him that.
“So are you in on this little hoax, too?”
He grinned and his mustache twitched. “What hoax? I just came to enjoy the movie. Am I too late?”
The mischievous twinkle in his green eyes told me what I wanted to know. “No, they’re starting it over in just a few minutes. Why don’t you help yourself to the goodies while you wait.” I turned and left him standing there, probably surprised that I didn’t pursue things any further.
Before I reached Stephen, we heard our third scream of the evening. This time it came from the theater office. Skeptical, I slowly followed the crowd. By the time I reached the room, Knight was on the scene and shooing everyone back. I considered myself lucky that I only got a glare from him, but was allowed to pass.
Rick and Stephen knelt over the familiar body on the floor. Our earlier dead man, Bill Harrison, lay on the floor with an all too real looking pool of blood around his head and broken glass scattered about. My skepticism was unfortunately gone. A fresh smell of smoke filled the room and I almost sneezed. Perhaps Harrison had come in here for a smoke and been attacked for some reason.
“Who screamed?” asked Knight.
A petite usherette named Carrie, held up a shaking hand. “I did. I came in here on an errand for Mr. Mitchell and found him on the floor.” Tears began to slide down her cheeks and Stephen handed her a handkerchief.
“Was anyone else in the room?” asked Knight.
She shook her head and blew her nose.
“Rick, take her into another room and get her statement. Then send the rest of the crowd into the theater and start the movie.
Rick looked at him like he was crazy and began to argue. “But —”
“It’s the best way to keep everyone together. Have the officers watch the exits while we check out the crime scene. I’ll let you know if we need to talk to anyone.”
Still looking puzzled, Rick obeyed.
Stephen and Will began to look around the body. I knelt down by a piece of the glass and moved it with a pencil. I knew this glass. It was a large vase I’d seen on the desk. Obviously, that was the murder weapon.
Will stood up. “I think we all know how this man was killed. My guess is that it wasn’t planned. Any thoughts on a suspect?”
I continued to scan the floor. “We really don’t know much about him. He’s a stage actor who I assume is really from Hollywood since I’ve never seen him before.”
Stephen’s cell rang. “I’ll take this in the lobby.”
I continued to look around while he was gone and spotted the end of a cigarette on the floor near the desk and pointed it out to Will as Stephen came back in.
“I don’t know any Donlynites who would dare smoke in this theater,” I said. “Perhaps this was Harrison’s.”
Will knelt down to pick it up with a pair of tweezers. “I don’t think Mr. Harrison wore lipstick.”
Stephen moved in to take a look himself. “That was David on the phone and he had some interesting things to say about Harrison. He may be an actor, but word in Hollywood is that he puts food on the table by preying on wealthy old women in between acting jobs. He hasn’t had a job in makeup or special effects for a long time either; he wasn’t very good at it. David has a cousin who’s an extra in Hollywood,” he offered in response to my look of surprise. Stephen knew me so well it was almost scary. I didn’t even have to ask.
“Interesting,” said Knight. “Is there someone here who would fit the bill and might have been upset to learn that Mr. Harrison was merely using her?” He held the cigarette butt up. “And is perhaps a smoker wearing red lipstick?”
Stephen and I looked at each other and answered in unison. “Mrs. Swanson.”
I leaned in to look closer at the lipstick myself. It was a perfect match for the scarlet red that she wore and she was likely the only person bold enough not to care about the no-smoking laws.
Knight sent Rick to retrieve Mrs. Swanson. I was pretty certain once they checked the prints on the broken vase and the DNA on the cigarette they’d have all the proof they needed. The perils of committing an act of passion were that you often didn’t think to cover up for yourself.
Having enough of murder, I left them and returned to the lobby, sat down, and sighed. The rest of the audience was still enjoying the last half of Sunset Boulevard, but I was no longer in the mood. Stephen soon followed me but I sent him inside to finish the movie, telling him I’d join him soon. Murder didn’t faze him as much having grown up in a Mafia family. What bothered him was when the bad guys got away; now that we had our killer, he was satisfied.
After a few minutes, Knight came out and sat down beside me. “You okay?”
“I’ll survive. It’s all just too unreal. Harrison died twice in one night.” I laughed at the irony. “That doesn’t happen every day.”
“Well, when you’re dealing with entertainer types anything is possible.”
I glared at him and his mustache twitched. I smiled despite myself and wondered why this man always seemed to be able to make me smile.
I was ready to face murder again, the fictional kind anyway, and stood. “They’re not half as bad as those cop types. I’ll never trust a cop again after tonight.”
He stood up and offered his arm to escort me back inside. “That’s true. You just never know what a cop might do.”
My smile widened as I took his arm and pondered exactly what a cop might do.