by Guy Belleranti
The Killed Critic was originally published in the Spring 2002 issue of Mystery Time Magazine.
Detective Abby Adams studied beautiful Gina Grove. Was she acting or telling the truth?
The theater actress shrugged. “So. Doesn’t mean I killed him. He also panned my co-star Tony Asher, and Brian Wayne, the director/writer of Purple Passions.”
“His wife says you tried to initiate an affair with him, that when he said no, you vowed vengeance.”
“Kyla Harrison is a liar. Do I look like a woman who needs to beg men for their attention? The truth is Harrison hit on me, and I told him to buzz off.”
“She also says she saw you walking in the vicinity of her house around 8:30 this morning when she returned from grocery shopping. And then, minutes later, she walked into her kitchen and found her husband still home from the office, murdered.”
“8:30? Yes, I was out walking about that time.”
“In the rain?”
Yes, Abby thought as she drove away, it could have been the wife. She might have seen Gina Grove as a competitor for her husband’s attentions, and spotting the actress in the vicinity of her home could have set her off. Or perhaps Kyla Harrison had another motive. Maybe it was she who’d been playing around. She hadn’t seemed broken up by her husband’s death, and those slender legs and raven hair could stir up the emotions of many a man.
But then what about that little puddle of water in the front hall of the Harrison place? The kind which would have formed from a dripping umbrella. Perhaps Gina Grove’s umbrella?
Five minutes later Abby pulled into the curb before a small house. As she paused to eye the red Porsche and white Corvette parked in the driveway a lean, muscular man in shorts yelled from the covered porch, “Looking for someone?”
“Yes. Brian Wayne.”
“You’ve found him.”
Abby flashed her ID. “I’m investigating the murder of Tom Harrison, fine arts critic for the Courier.”
“No kidding? Well come up here out of that drizzle and tell me more.” Wayne stuck his head in the front door. “Tony, get out here. Someone’s done in Horrible Harrison.”
“Who shot him?” Six foot, dark-haired, with dimples in each cheek, Abby found it easy to see why Tony Asher wowed the women.
“Tom Harrison wasn’t shot,” Abby said. “He was slugged with a piece of pipe.”
“Whew! Just like in Purple Passions.”
“How do you mean?”
“I kill Gina Grove at the end of the play that way. Or rather my character kills her character. It’s quite shocking really. Brian here must have been in a bloodthirsty mood when he wrote it.”
“It was the only ending that fit,” Wayne said. “But now—” He frowned. “I sure didn’t mean for some crazy to go to Harrison’s place this morning and copy it.”
“Yeah,” Asher said. “Makes you look like the prime suspect.”
Wayne scowled, and Asher chuckled. “Just kidding. Actually, the wife’s probably the number one suspect, hey, officer?”
“This isn’t a game of Clue, Tony,” Wayne snapped before Abby could reply. “I haven’t an alibi – been home all morning, but can’t prove it. And I bet you don’t have an alibi either.”
“And perhaps read Harrison’s review of Purple Passions?” Abby asked.
“Touché. Yeah, I read that piece of trash. But if you think that sent me off the deep end…. No way!”
“When did you get here?”
“Ten, maybe fifteen, minutes ago.” The actor looked at his watch and frowned. “Stupid thing’s stopped again. Either of you got the time?”
“Quarter to ten,” Wayne said. He glanced at Abby. “Tony and I have a handball court reserved at the gym for ten, so if you’ll excuse us—”
“All right. Though I may have more questions later.”
Abby watched as the two men got in their separate cars and drove off, Asher in the Porsche, Wayne in the Corvette. She started for her own car then turned back, staring at the wet driveway. What was it that one of them had said? Something important, something—
Abby’s eyes widened. Yes! She ticked off the four suspects in her mind. One of them had lied to her this morning, and she could prove it. She just needed a little more evidence.
Several hours later Abby was sitting in the interrogation room across the table from her prime suspect. “We’ve found an umbrella at your place with a blood smear on the handle. I’m betting it’s Tom Harrison’s blood, left when you carried the umbrella back to your car after committing the murder.”
Brian Wayne hung his head. “He was an awful man. Never had a nice thing to say about anyone, and treated Kyla terribly – even hit her. But what made you suspect me?”
“Two things. First, I never mentioned when or where the murder occurred, yet you said you didn’t mean for someone to go to Harrison’s house this morning and copy the scene from your play. Second, when you and Tony Asher left for the gym I noticed your driveway was wet.”
“So,” Abby said, “if you’d been telling the truth about not going anywhere this morning the concrete beneath where your car had been parked should have been dry.”
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