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ON TUESDAY morning it felt as though the whole town was asleep. Although all the businesses were open for trade, there were few customers about. Hill presumed that all those people who just the day before were crowding the streets were now indoors, having exhausted themselves. He felt the same way. The only sounds that could be heard were those from the crew that was disassembling the rides, the tents and the food stalls. Hill drove his car down alongside the garbage strewn park. It looked even worse without people. He got out of his car and watched the workers for a while.
The shadows were still long and a soft summer breeze swept up along the South Shore and into the Mersey River estuary. He thought about being on the golf course but regretfully knew that it might be weeks, or months before he would get there. By the time the investigation was over the golf course would probably be closed. But the worst of it was that Geoff’s golf score would be impossible to beat unless this case was solved in a timely fashion.
That previous evening and after the fireworks, Hill had read more of Scarlett’s play and managed to read up to the end of Act II. As much as he enjoyed it and wanted to read more, he decided to start the final act with a fresh mind. At that time he had considered re-reading the last few pages of Act II and wondered if there was more to be gained from her script other than simple reading pleasure. Maybe he had missed the obvious.
In frustration Hill kicked at the trash near his feet. An unopened fortune cookie lay there in a plastic wrapper. He picked it up, opened it and took out the tiny piece of paper. It read: Be patient; great castles were built one stone at a time. Ever a believer, though he did not have a castle to build, he slipped the tiny piece of paper into his wallet and dropped the cookie and the wrapper into the trash bin.
Hill drove his car past the theatre and up Gorham Street. As he climbed the slope he saw in his mirror who he thought was Briggs crossing the street behind him. It was a reminder that he had yet to ask him why he was wandering around and seemingly provoking him at every turn. And there he was again, one of the few people in town who was awake, and he was still wearing that costume. Privateer Days had ended along with the Canada Day celebrations so he wondered why anyone in the world would want to walk around sweating in that outfit. As much as he felt like putting his car in reverse or simply making a U-turn he continued up the one-way and onto Church Street before looping back through Jubilee, hoping to catch him there. Unlucky again, Briggs was nowhere in sight. Instead he saw Bruce, the lighting and sound manager for Scarlett’s production, looking rather unkempt, striding towards the theatre.
“Where are you off to in such a hurry?” Hill asked him.
“I’m just going in to see Paul, the theatre manager,” Bruce said, pointing down the street.
“Anything that I should know about?”
“I don’t think so. It’s just that one area of the stage lighting seemed to be wonky on Saturday night.”
“Mind if I tag along?”
He said, “Sure,” and Hill took it as an invitation.
Paul was sitting at his desk when they walked in and if not for Hill’s presence Paul would not have bothered to get out of his chair.
“Good day Sergeant. How may I help you?”
“I just followed Bruce in here. I thought I’d poke around a bit. Do you mind?”
“No, go ahead.”
Hill entered the theatre and flipped on the light switch. A single line of lights lit up the back rows of seating and the open-topped booth in which Bruce had worked the lights and sound. The muffled voices of Paul and Bruce carried in from the office. Hill walked over and stood next to the sound and lighting booth. He stood looking down the aisle. With just a few lights at the back of the theatre it was too dark to see anything clearly beyond the first four rows. The metal on the backs of the chairs reflected star bursts of light. He proceeded down the graded aisle and his every footstep creaked from the old floorboards, echoing throughout the room. He stopped at the set of stairs at the center of the stage and looked at the closed doors underneath, tempted to open them. He was suddenly reminded of The Phantom of the Opera. He did not open the doors, though he did wonder what was under there.
The added chairs that had been set, to accommodate the extra ticket sales, had been removed after Saturday night’s performance and the floor had been swept. It felt strange being inside the theatre when it was empty and although Hill had never performed on stage, he had the sudden urge to get up there and belt out a song, not for himself but for the theatre, the old Liverpool Opera House that, by reputation, had the best acoustics in the Maritimes.
Other than the glowingly yellow crime scene tape that had not yet been removed, he felt as though he had slipped back in time, just as he had in Perkins’ House. Then, as Hill went to take his first step up the stairs to the stage, the theatre was suddenly fully lit. He spun around, startled. Paul and Bruce were sitting in the lighting booth and were flicking light switches. Hill returned to the back of the theatre and listened to their conversation.
“I know that it was working during rehearsal because no one mentioned then that it was out,” Bruce said.
Paul flicked the switches again, “Then it must be a short. I suppose we could have an electrician look at it.”
“Might be a burnt bulb too, there’s only one light bulb in that corridor,” Bruce said, scratching his head in thought.
When they proceeded to the front of the theatre Hill followed. Black fingerprinting dust still lay on the floor. The coffin was shoved near the back of the stage but the rest of the furniture was only slightly askew. According to Scarlett’s script the coffin would have been center stage at the start of Act III, as it was when Mosher’s body was discovered and taken away.
Together they walked up the narrow set of stairs, at the left, and onto the stage through the main door of the set. Bruce and Paul entered the foyer while Hill, deep in thought, fingered the wide door-knocker. From the foyer they were able to access the set’s sitting room, or to go backstage through the narrow corridor that was often used for storage. Darren had utilized that space, since the stage was so small and virtually without wings, making the corridor one of the main access points for the actors to approach the living room from the foyer or the set via Perkins’ front door. It gave the appearance of entering from the walkway. The corridor area was six feet wide by ten feet long. A set of heavy black curtains hung at either end to block all light from the back of the stage. Paul flipped the one curtain aside and draped it over the wide hook. Light shone from backstage, providing defused light to the tiny unlit corridor. While they stood discussing the matter, Hill passed through the corridor and to the back of the stage, looped around and entered the sitting room through Perkins’ counting room. The reverse of where he had walked when he entered Perkins’ House at the museum. He stood beside the coffin and looked inside it while Paul and Bruce fiddled with the light switch in the tiny space. He ran his finger across the dried blood, blood smeared by Alexis when she had discovered that Mosher was dead. Hill listened to their chatter.
Paul reached up and wiggled the light-bulb. “Bulb is loose,” he said as he tightened the bulb that hung over the work bench. “I knew it couldn’t be much.”
“Holy Christ, what the hell is that?” Bruce shouted, the moment that the light came on.
Paul’s eyes trailed upward and he said, “Sergeant, you might want to step over here.”
Hill was immediately at their side. All three gazed up into the tall, dark, narrow space of the corridor. Two white plaster feet hung down over them. Instinctively, Paul reached over to release the rope that was tied to the peg near his head.
“I wouldn’t touch that if I were you,” Hill recommended.
“Holy Christ,” Bruce said, as he pulled a stool from under the bench and flopped onto it, appearing even paler than he was in the bright sunlight.
Hill was on his radio, contacting Detective Carter, to get him back at the crime scene.
Within minutes Carter and three officers arrived at the theatre. An hour later the missing mannequin was untied from the ceiling and was lying on a sheet on the floor. A thick hang-man’s rope was still tied around its neck. Six sets of eyes stared at the dummy and Hill was surprised at how lifelike it looked. Hollis truly deserved a pat on the back. It was certainly the image of Briggs. It was so eerie that Hill flipped a corner of the sheet to cover the mannequin’s face before he turned away.
“Not likely to get much from it for prints,” Hill said to Carter.
“We’ll take a look anyway. Interesting way in which that noose is tied.”
“Expert job I’d say. Though it isn’t the typical hangman’s noose.”
Two officers carried the dummy out of the theatre and across the street just as four customers were leaving the computer store and another was leaving the hairdresser shop. As luck would have it, when the officers opened the trunk of the car, Craig, the local newspaper reporter, was crossing Gorham Street. He snapped a photo of the dummy that had been wrapped in the white sheet. For those who were not on the street corner that morning they would be able to see it anyway, on the front page of Wednesday’s edition. Hill would have groaned if he had seen Craig snap the photo. Word would soon be about town that another body had been discovered in the theatre. At least this time it was not a real corpse.
Hill left the theatre with nobody other than Briggs on his mind. Maybe it was due to the similarity of the dummy to that of Briggs. As luck would have it he saw him walking down the street, alongside the new cosmetic shop, heading to the waterfront. A sign still hung on the side of that old building indicating that it was once an antique and book shop. New as the sign looked, it had been years since any books had been sold at that location. The owner of the new tattoo shop was putting signs in one of the adjoining shop windows. He would be open for business within the week. A Friday-special was being promoted, some curious kind of piercing. ‘Bizarre’, thought Hill.
Hill was wondering why Briggs was still wearing that costume for every other costume wearer had long ago hung theirs up for another year. Determined to speak with him, and not wanting to get caught up in one-way streets again, he strode across Main Street. He looked down the pedestrian slope of the side-street but Briggs was no longer in sight. Other than the parking lot there was only the SPCA shop or the little cafe where he could have gone. Determined to catch up with him Hill ran along the pedestrian walk-way. The SPCA store was closed so he raced on to the waterfront. The parking lot was virtually empty, aside from the clean-up crew. All the rides, food stalls and zoo animals had been removed and the only evidence of the event was Vadoma’s tent which still stood in the park. Four paying customers stood in a line waiting for her to reveal their futures. Briggs was gone and since Hill did not want to get caught up with Vadoma again he turned back towards his car. By chance that Briggs had gone into the café Hill popped his head in to see if he was there. There was just one table occupied, a group of old ladies were having tea.
END OF CHAPTER ELEVEN
“Linda has published fifteen books. She blogs about the publishing world, posts useful tips on the challenges a writer faces, including marketing and promoting your work, how to build your online platform, how to get reviews and how to self-publish.”