WHO KILLED HAMLET?


By Herschel Cozine



Gilmore Grady, Shakespearean actor of renown, if you are to believe his bio, lay unceremoniously on the stage, as dead as the proverbial doornail.

"Killed by a falling statue, you say?" I asked Morton Hathaway, a thin, palsied individual of indeterminate age.

He nodded his oversized head and swallowed nervously.

Next to Grady's body lay a statue that appeared to be a winged figure of some kind. According to Hathaway, the director, it had fallen from the platform above and flattened Grady in the middle of his soliloquy. I studied the scene carefully. Killed by a falling fairy. Not a very manly way to go. Perhaps the papers would show some compassion in their write-up and let the deceased keep a little dignity.

I looked skyward towards the platform. "What was the statue doing up there in the first place?" I asked.

Hathaway shrugged. "I have no idea. There's a storage area up there, but it is used for lighter props, such as telephones, lamps. That sort of thing." His eyes drifted to the deceased. He shuddered and quickly looked away.

I craned my neck to see. The platform took up about a quarter of the overhead space. Secured by 4x4 posts, painted black and bolted to the ceiling, the platform was barely noticeable from below. There were no railings that I could see, at least none on the side where I stood.

"How do you get up there?" I asked.

Hathaway pointed to a door. "There is a flight of stairs offstage. Stage right. But the door to them is kept locked."

"Who has the key?"

Hathaway smiled a nervous smile. "I do." Then he added quickly. "But so does the stage manager. And, of course, the owner of the theater."

"And who is that?"

"Melvin Thornton," Hathaway said. "He's out of the country at the moment. In Italy, I believe."

I turned my attention back to the platform. "Whoever pushed the statue had to get down from there without being seen. And with the stairs being the only access, I can't understand how that could have happened." I looked to Hathaway for an explanation.

He had none. He scratched his head, his eyes half closed. "Good point."

"Nobody saw anything?"

Hathaway shook his head. "Not that I know of. There were only a few of us in the auditorium at the time. Reginald Posner, my stage manager. Millie, the prompter. And me."

The coroner's crew and investigation team had arrived, so I took Hathaway by the arm and guided him to the wings. He seemed more than happy to follow.

There were several people milling about, talking softly among themselves. None of them seemed particularly distraught. Perhaps they were in a state of shock, I thought. Or, being professional actors, they had a way of hiding their true emotions.

"What can you tell me about the deceased?" I asked. "Did he have enemies that you know about?"

Hathaway frowned thoughtfully, shrugged and looked at his feet. "Oh, my, yes," he said. "I guess in this line of work everyone has enemies. Egos, you know. Professional jealousy. A lot of success in acting comes from being in the right place at the right time. Knowing the right people. That sort of thing. I'm sure there are those who think Gilmore Grady didn't deserve the stature he had."

"OK," I said. "I can understand that. I've seen his act. But is that a reason for murder?"

Another shrug. "There are murders committed every day for reasons no better than that."

I acknowledged his remark with a grunt.

"Were you and the stage manager and prompter the only ones in the building when this happened?"

"Oh, no," Hathaway said quickly. "We are in rehearsal for 'Hamlet.' We open in less than two weeks. All of the cast is here."

I pulled a notebook from my jacket pocket, flipped to an empty page, and produced a pen. "Names, please."

"I beg your pardon?" Hathaway's ever present frown deepened.

"I want the names of everyone who was in the building at the time of Grady's death."

"Oh, my," Hathaway whined. "There were all the cast members — at least all of them who were in this particular scene." He paused and frowned in thought. "Then there were stage hands, technicians, costume people, makeup artists, Jerome the doorman."

I held up a hand to stop him. This was clearly getting out of hand.

"OK. This isn't going to work. Maybe we should go back to the old standard 'means, motive and opportunity'. That way we can eliminate those people who couldn't physically get the statue up in the loft, who were not in a position to be there when the incident occurred, or who had no reason to want him dead."

"The last will not eliminate too many individuals," Hathaway said with a rueful smile. "Just about everyone here hated the man. You won't find too many tears shed around here." He sighed heavily. "Melissa, George. Possibly Anna."

"What about them?" I asked.

"They would be least likely to have motive."

"Why is that?"

"Well," Hathaway said, "Melissa actually seemed to like the man. At least she talked to him even when it wasn't necessary for her to do so. She hardly seems the type to kill someone."

He scratched his nose. "George owes his part in the play to Grady. He will probably be replaced now that Grady is gone."

"How about Anna?"

"Anna Griswold," Hathaway said, a knowing smile playing across his lips. "Ophelia."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Anna plays Ophelia in this production. She has been Ophelia for Grady before. Grady would have nobody else." He paused, started to say something, then sighed and fell quiet.

"OK." I said, not very hopefully. "That narrows it down a little. However," I continued, eyeing Hathaway, "it doesn't necessarily eliminate them from suspicion. Let's just put them on the back burner, so to speak."

Hathaway nodded. I had written the names in my notebook and placed a checkmark next to them to indicate that they were not high on the list of suspects.

"How many in the cast?" I asked. Knowing Shakespeare I anticipated a cast of thirty or more. I wasn't disappointed. Simply overwhelmed. If what Hathaway said about Grady's enemies was true, there were thirty-seven suspects. (I wasn't counting Anna, Melissa or George.)

Thirteen actors, extras for the most part, had not been there at the time of the accident. I took some consolation in that, although it left twenty-four potential perpetrators. And that was just the cast. Add eleven others, crew members, and I was almost back to the original number.

I studied the list of names on the sheet of paper in front of me. It was intimidating. Over forty names, all of whom should be questioned if I wanted to face my superior with confidence. But, never having been of the bureaucratic mind, I decided against such a waste of time — mine and theirs. Instead I concentrated on the method of murder — a falling fairy if you will, and what planning and effort it took to commit the act.

Someone intent on killing poor Grady by pushing a statue off a platform had to have had "malice aforethought." He or she, if acting alone, had to have the opportunity to get the statue up to the platform, position it precisely, and push it over at just the right time. He or she had to escape unseen and be innocently involved in another activity by the time the police arrived.

The statue weighed more than fifty pounds. It would be difficult for someone to wrestle it up the stairs. That, in my mind, eliminated all of the women and more than half of the men in the cast or crew. I started crossing off names. I was only familiar with some of the names on the list. I would have to wait until I saw the others before I could determine whether or not they would be capable of getting the statue up to the platform.

It seemed appropriate at this time to make a trip to the loft and view the scene first hand. I posed this request to Hathaway who nervously agreed.

"But you won't find anything," he said. "It's just a platform."

"I understand," I said. "But it is a crime scene."

Hathaway led me back into the auditorium, down the aisle and onto the stage. Grady's body had been removed, to the obvious relief of Hathaway who suddenly became more animated as we proceeded stage right to the door to the stairway. He fished a set of keys from his pocket and selected one. Placing it in the lock, he opened the door and stepped back.

The stairway was dark and narrow. I took a tentative first step, imagining myself carrying a fifty pound statue that was almost as big as I am. It would not be an easy thing to do.

Reaching the platform, I stepped carefully over to the edge and peered down. I was directly above the spot where Grady stood when he was asking, "to be or not to be." He got his answer, although I am certain it is not the one he wanted.

It was about a fifteen foot drop from the platform to the floor of the stage. Grady was about six feet tall. Remembering my high school physics, I figured the statue was falling approximately thirty-two feet per second, enough to give it a deadly force. Grady was proof of that.

The platform itself was quite small, about ten by twelve feet. One side backed up against the wall where the door was located. The remaining sides had no wall or railing, but ended in midair. It reminded me of the tree house I had as a child. However, I used apples instead of statues as my weapons of choice, mainly because the tree was an apple tree. You play the hand you're dealt.

A few props were scattered here and there: an old fashioned lamp, an end table, knick knacks of various shapes and sizes. There was a pillow and a blanket in the far corner.

I walked to the edge of the platform where the statue had stood waiting for its deadly mission. A few new scrapes showed on the floor, along with chalk marks that the statue apparently made when it was moved. I got down on my hands and knees to get a better look. Some strands of black material were protruding from the splintered floor. I picked them up and put them in an evidence bag. I had no idea if they had anything to do with the case. They could have been there forever as far as I knew. But collecting stuff like this is what detectives do.

I took a final look, finding nothing of interest, and returned to the main stage where Hathaway was pacing the floor, his bony hands worrying each other, his narrow face contorted in what appeared to be labor pains.

The auditorium was filled with people: actors, crew, and everyone who had been in the theatre at the time of the murder. I had instructed Hathaway that no one was to leave the theatre, and further, that they all assemble in the auditorium.

A quick count told me there were about forty people. I tried to put a name to each one from the list I had and Hathaway's description. There were only three or four that I could identify. I was almost certain that the small woman dressed in black and sitting apart from the others was Anna Griswold. And George Meredith who Hathaway had said owed his part in the production to Grady, slouched in a rear seat looking as if he had lost his best friend. Perhaps he had.

There were one or two others who I was pretty certain I could identify. But I soon gave up trying.

I turned to the group. "My name is Inspector Hollings," I said. "I will be wanting to see some of you individually. No one will be allowed to leave without my permission. I will try to make this as quick and painless as possible. Please bear with me on this."

I sensed rather than heard a collective groan.

"You are free to go anywhere in the theatre, but please make yourself available when I call for you."

A few of them left; others sat talking among themselves. I turned to Hathaway and held out a list.

"I would like to speak to these people," I said.

He scanned the list, nodded nervously, and led me offstage to a small room in the wings.

"My office," he said. "Will this be all right?"

"This will do fine," I said. I took off my jacket, draped it over the straight backed chair behind a cluttered desk and sat down.

"Bring them on," I said. "One at a time."

Hathaway disappeared in an aura of despair that sent a touch of sympathy through my normally unfeeling body. Whether he was dismayed by Gilmore's death, or just pissed off that the production would be delayed, (with a cost overrun), I could only guess. Well, that was his problem. I had more important things on my mind — like a dead ham, a falling nymph, and countless suspects to interview.

A knock on the door interrupted my reverie.

"Come in," I yelled.

The door opened slowly, revealing a large, overweight man with unruly hair and a face that looked as though it had been fashioned out of silly putty. I recognized him from pictures in the lobby, but couldn't put a name to the face.

"Thank you for coming," I said. I motioned to the only unoccupied chair in the room. "Please sit down."

The thespian nodded and sat down heavily, causing the chair to creak in protest. He took a moment to look around the room, finally allowing his eyes to settle on me.

"Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death the memory be green, and that it is befitted to bear our hearts in grief."

Thaddeus Milrose wiped his oversized nose with a delicate handkerchief and looked at the ceiling.

"'Hamlet.' Act one, scene two." He turned his gaze to me. "Apropos to the occasion, would you agree?"

I agreed, I suppose, not really knowing what he was talking about. I wondered if all actors were like this, or just Shakespearean ones. But I suddenly understood the meaning of "ham" in "Hamlet.

"Where were you when the accident occurred?" I asked.

Milrose pursed his lips and let a frown crease his shaggy eyebrows. "In my dressing room," he said at last. "Grady was spouting his ridiculous soliloquy as only he could do it — poorly. I wanted no part of it."

He started to say more, but I held up my hand.

"You didn't like Mr. Grady, I take it."

"I loathed the man. He was an egotistical, completely untalented man who would stop at nothing to get his way." Milrose straightened his shoulders and glared at his own hand. "I am only a part of this travesty because of an obscure clause in my contract." He sat back. "I fired my agent. The fool should have read the fine print before he let me sign it."

I waited while Milrose fretted and mumbled. He looked in the mirror, patted a hair into place and turned to me.

"But I didn't kill him, if that's what you think. Too risky."

"Risky?" I asked.

Milrose threw back his shoulders. "Truth will come to light; murder may not be hid long. 'Merchant Of Venice.' Act two, scene two."

I winced inwardly. "Nevertheless, someone killed him."

"I was not the villain — or the hero if you will. I had neither the means or the opportunity, although God knows I had the motive."

I sighed. "Were you alone in the dressing room?"

"My good man," Milrose replied haughtily. "We are mere actors, destined to enlighten and entertain. We have no privileges, such as private rooms, unless we are the chosen few who through works or threats achieve the status of 'star'." The last word uttered with a note of disdain. "I was not alone."

Perhaps it was too much to expect of a Shakespearean actor, especially a poor one, to be terse. But all I really wanted to hear from his rhetoric were the last four words.

"Names, please," I said, pulling the pad towards me.

Milrose arched an eyebrow. "I beg your pardon?"

"Who was with you?"

"Yes. Of course," Milrose said. "Bartlett Miller. Gerald Foley. Maximillian Hosey." He sniffed haughtily. "He plays a surprisingly good Horatio."

I went down the list, putting a check mark after each name. If what Milrose said was true, the list of suspects suddenly got shorter.

I decided there was nothing more to be learned from the ham sitting before me, so I dismissed him with a wave of my hand. He bristled slightly at the gesture, but said nothing, which was in itself a rarity.

I relaxed too soon. At the door, Milrose turned and raised a jeweled finger. "I am a soldier and unapt to weep, or to exclaim on fortune's fickleness. 'Henry The Sixth.' Act five, scene two." With an exaggerated bow he made his exit. I wasn't certain whether it was stage left or right.

The elimination of the other three actors from the list of suspects made my life a lot easier. I was fairly certain that none of the actresses could have done the deed, since it required a considerable amount of strength to wrestle with the murder weapon. Unless, of course, there was more than one person involved. I couldn't rule this out, knowing what I knew about the victim's popularity rating. Still, the murder seemed to be the act of a single individual, given the timing and the place. The platform was open to view from the stage and the wings. There was hardly room for two people to move without being seen.

The rest of the morning was spent in fruitless interrogation. Almost everyone had a motive. And almost everyone had an alibi which could be verified by others. Only two of the actors, Sheridan Matthews and Mitchell P. Mitchell, were unable to account for their whereabouts at the time of the murder. I had yet to question the actresses.

Matthews hardly seemed capable of the deed, both physically and mentally. Standing a mere five foot six in his booster shoes, he was not much taller than the murder weapon. And his hangdog look, accompanied by lapdog demeanor, did not fit the profile, if such a profile existed. Of course, the look and demeanor could be a carefully rehearsed characteristic, performed for my benefit. But I didn't think so. My instincts are quite astute, if I do say so myself. While I didn't scratch him off the list of suspects, I didn't give him a particularly high rating. If this had been a tennis match, he would have been unseeded.

Mitchell, on the other hand, had all the necessary qualifications. Height, strength, personality and motive. A tall man, well over six feet, with biceps that could have only been developed by serious and long term weightlifting, he presented an imposing figure. He was a brooding man with eyes that looked out through half closed eyelids, and a pout that reminded me of Beethoven when he learned he was going deaf.

As for motive, Mitchell was Grady's understudy, and from all accounts, an ambitious actor who was impatient to take his rightful place in the theatrical world. He was only twenty-five years old, younger than Hamlet himself if I know my Shakespeare.

And, like most of those in the cast, he hated Gilmore Grady.

"Where were you when Grady was killed?" I had asked Matthews.

His response was immediate, concise and terse. In other words, carefully rehearsed. It could have been a scene from the play itself.

"I was relaxing, getting in touch with my inner being, intent on bringing to life the Bard's words that had been entrusted to me through the character of Polonius." He struck a pose reminiscent of The Thinker. I don't know about Shakespeare, but Rodin would have been proud.

"In other words, you were alone?"

Before he could reply I held up my hand. "A simple yes or no will do."

He breathed a sigh and said, "yes."

Further questioning proved to be futile. My questions were answered in Shakespearean fashion, when answered at all, leaving me frustrated and cursing the day the Bard had picked up his pen.

George Meredith, balding and inhabiting a body quickly going to flab, sat in the chair staring at nothing through vacant eyes. He seemed genuinely saddened by Grady's murder. "Genuine" is a rare commodity in his line of work, and I immediately felt a bond with the man. This bond was further strengthened by the fact that the man had been in the room at least two minutes without orating or quoting from plays.

"You were Grady's friend?" I asked.

At the mention of Grady's name his eyes came alive and he sat up straight.

"A true gentleman he was," he said.

"Not many of your colleagues share that view," I said.

Meredith snorted. "Jealousy. Petty immaturity. They didn't know Gilmore like I knew him. Always fair to me." He took a handkerchief from his hip pocket and applied it to his eyes.

"I owe my career to him," he went on. "Why I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for him."

I glanced around the shoddy room. I wasn't certain that last statement was meant to be an endorsement or a complaint. I gave Meredith the benefit of the doubt and changed the subject.

"Where were you when Grady was killed?"

Meredith's face darkened at the question. "Surely you don't....?" he started. I held up my hand.

"Routine," I said quickly. "Perhaps you were in a position where you could shed some light on the murder. Did you notice any activity or suspicious behavior in recent days?"

Meredith shook his head thoughtfully. "No."

"Arguments with fellow actors? Threats?"

Meredith blinked as he pondered the question. Finally he sat up straight.

"Nothing of consequence. Gilmore confided in me, you know. I seemed to be the only one who understood him."

"And?" I prodded him.

"He was having problems with Fiona. And Mitchell."

"Fiona?"

"Yes. That's her stage name. Her real name is Anna."

I consulted the list. "Anna Griswold?"

Meredith nodded. "That's the one."

"But according to Mister Hathaway Anna was Grady's 'Ophelia'. He wouldn't have anyone else."

"True," Meredith replied. "But she's getting on in years, you know. Makeup can only do so much. He felt it was time to find someone else."

I mulled the statement over in my head. Certainly she was getting older. But so was Grady. Hamlet was young and vibrant. Grady himself was depending on makeup and most likely physical workouts to keep a youthful appearance. Ah, the hypocrisy of theatre.

"Had he said anything to anyone else about this?"

Meredith shook his head. "Anna, of course. I can't be sure of anyone else."

Before I could give it any more thought, Meredith went on.

"And Mitchell."

Again I consulted my list. Mitchell was one of the few who did not have an alibi. I made a mental note, then returned my attention to Meredith.

"What about Mitchell.?"

Meredith expelled a long sigh. "Gilmore was very unhappy with Mitchell's performance. He complained to Hathaway about it, saying the entire production would be hurt unless Mitchell was replaced. Mitchell heard about it and was extremely upset."

"Did they argue?"

Meredith shook his head. "I don't think so. I would have heard about it from Gilmore if they did. No. Mitchell is not the type to confront someone. He has other ways of dealing with his grievances."

"Such as?"

Meredith shrugged.

"Not murder," he said simply. I waited, but Meredith seemed to feel that he had given a sufficient answer. I didn't press him. Any actor who could confine a statement to two words deserved my respect.

Having had enough theatrics for awhile, I terminated my questioning and turned to the murder itself. A platform. A statue. A victim. How did the statue get up there? Just as important is: when? Surely it had to have been placed there when the perpetrator was alone.

(continued...)


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