WHO KILLED HAMLET?


By Herschel Cozine


(continued)

Returning to the stage I took my place under the platform where Grady was standing when he was so rudely — and permanently — interrupted. The murder weapon had been removed to the crime lab to be examined, dusted and stored. The only evidence of it having been here were a few flakes of plaster scattered on the floor.

I walked over to the rear of the stage — upstage to be precise — and pushed aside the heavy black curtain. The curtain hung a few feet in front of the back wall to allow the actors to cross the stage without being seen. Looking up I could see the infamous platform, the edge jutting slightly beyond the curtain.

There was little in the way of furnishing in the confined space. By necessity it was kept clear to allow for passage of the actors. A small stool stood along the back wall. A fire extinguisher and a flashlight were on a narrow ledge. In the far corner was a group of wires that hung from the ceiling. I recalled seeing "Peter Pan" in Boston several years earlier and was thoroughly impressed by Peter's entrance; perhaps the most dramatic in the history of live theatre. This particular Peter was in the form of Sandy Duncan who swooped out over the audience with the grace and agility of a dove, held aloft by invisible wires.

I took a final look around, then set out to find Hathaway. I caught up to him in the small kitchen at the back of the theatre. He was sitting at a table idly stirring cream into a cup of black sludge that had started out as coffee earlier in the day. I took a chair next to him and leaned back.

"Can you tell me where the statue that killed Grady was before the event?"

Hathaway stared at me vacantly while he sorted out my question, then nodded toward the auditorium. "Behind the curtain in a corner. Out of the way of the walk."

"Why was it there?"

"I have no idea," he said. "It had been there so long it was part of the decor. I suppose at one time it had been used for one of Shakespeare's plays. 'Midsummer Night's Dream' most likely." He eyed me with curiosity. "Does it matter?"

I waved a hand. "No. I suppose not. But it seems a strange murder weapon."

Hathaway shrugged. "Convenient."

I considered the word. Convenient, yes. But certainly not easily transported. It took strength and a lot of effort to lift it up to the platform. I was still struggling with the problem of how this could be accomplished by a single person. A conspiracy wasn't out of the question, especially in this case where the victim had more than his share of enemies. Still the thought of multiple murderers troubled me.

"When was the last time you saw the statue? Before this morning, that is?"

Hathaway frowned in thought. "I'm not sure. I don't go back there very often. And even then I probably wouldn't have noticed if it was gone."

"Well, whoever moved it had to have time to do so unobserved. After everyone had left for the day, or perhaps before anyone arrived in the morning. Who would be able to do that?"

Another frown from Hathaway. "I can't think of anyone who would have access to the theatre."

I stood up and started for the stage. "Show me where the statue was before someone moved it."

Hathaway followed, not too enthusiastically. I crossed the stage and drew aside the curtain. Hathaway ducked through, walked to a spot directly under the platform and pointed.

"Right here," he said. "You can see the outline of the base."

I knelt down and studied the floor. An irregular pattern that I supposed matched the base of the statue formed on the bare floor, free of dust that covered the rest of the walkway.

Standing up, I looked to the platform above me. There were a few dents in the wall, along with what appeared to be chalk marks. I had no idea whether they were put there as guide marks for the production or just a result of years of use.

Hathaway glanced at his watch. "Are you through with the interrogation?"

I had forgotten all about it. By now the natives were certainly growing restless and I had no desire to deal with it. I consulted my list.

"All except for Anna Griswold and Mitchell." I turned and headed for Hathaways' office. "Send Anna in, please."

While I waited for Anna I revisited the scene of the crime in my mind. A statue somehow lifted to a platform above the stage, pushed over by someone who managed to escape undetected during the confusion. The only escape route was the door on stage right only a few feet from the body of Grady Gilmore.

Or was it? I sat up straight, a scenario forming in my mind when the door opened and the small, wraithlike form of Anna Griswold appeared. She stood by the door like an errant child waiting to be scolded. I waved her to the chair. She sidled over to it, sat down and folded her hands in her lap.

Dressed entirely in black, including a tight fitting hood over her head, she presented a pathetic figure, not at all like I pictured an actress should look. The only part of her that showed was her face. I saw traces of aging around the eyes, the slight sagging of the chin. How closely she resembled Ophelia I couldn't say.

I smiled at her, hopefully reassuring her that I was not going to harm her. She returned my smile with a fleeting one of her own.

"Please relax, Anna," I said. "I just have a few questions."

She nodded, but remained stiff in the chair. Pushing aside my notepad, I leaned forward and placed my hands on the desk.

"What was your relationship with Mister Grady?"

She blinked at the question, frowned and looked at the floor.

"There was no relationship," she said. "We were fellow actors."

"He insisted on having you play Ophelia. Is that right?"

"I guess," she said. "I have been in other productions with him."

"Was he trying to replace you?"

She stiffened at the question, but her face revealed no emotion.

"Not to my knowledge. Why should he?"

I didn't answer. She was either lying to me or was unaware of Grady's intentions. That is if Meredith was telling the truth. I saw no reason for him to lie. I didn't think it would be prudent for me to tell Anna why Grady wanted to replace her. Certain subjects are sacred, especially to those who count on their looks to make a living. I changed the subject.

"Where were you when Mister Grady was killed?"

Anna shuddered at the question, wrung her hands together and sighed.

"In my dressing room."

"You have a private dressing room?"

She nodded.

"Were you alone?"

"Yes."

"Where were you last night?"

Her eyes showed a trace of panic, quickly masked by glancing down at the floor.

"Why do you want to know?"

"Just answer my question."

"I was home."

"You live alone?"

"Yes."

"Were you home all evening?"

"Yes."

"I don't believe you."

She looked up at me, her eyes now alive and flashing. "Surely you aren't suggesting that I had anything to do with this?"

I ignored her and went on. "I think you hid out in the theatre until everyone was gone, then got the statue up to the platform. You may have stayed there with it all night. There was a pillow and blanket there."

"You can't be serious," she shouted. "Look at me. I am hardly capable of moving a statue up to that platform."

I nodded mutely, leaned back and gave her the stare reserved for those who have something to hide. She squirmed under my gaze, then stood up.

"I don't have to take this."

"Sit down," I said in a tone that stopped her. She considered the door for a moment, then sat back down and folded her hands in her lap.

"You have no reason to suspect me."

I gave her a fleeting smile. It would be my last friendly gesture.

"I have ample reason," I said. "Certainly you had to be aware that Grady was looking to replace you. He told George Meredith as much."

At the mention of Meredith's name she snorted.

"George is a rumor monger."

I changed the subject. "Why are you dressed in black, Miss Griswold?"

She examined herself and shrugged. "I like the outfit. It's comfortable."

"And it also makes it hard for one to see you if you are in a dark place. Like the platform."

She looked up sharply.

"You're an actress, an experienced one who has been in a lot of productions. Not all of them Shakespearean. Right?"

She nodded.

"Musicals?"

"Yes."

"Peter Pan?"

"How did you know that?"

"I read your bio. Minneapolis. 1987. Good reviews."

She smiled in spite of herself.

"You are familiar with flywires. It would be a simple thing to lift the statue up to the platform by flywire. There are marks on the wall leading up to the platform where the statue crashed against it as you lifted it up. Then you used it to get up there..."

"You don't know what you're talking about," she said. "I couldn't possibly lift myself up by flywire alone. If you knew anything about it you would know it can't be operated by the person in it. Someone else has to operate the controls."

I nodded agreement. "I'm sure you are right. But you didn't use it as it is supposed to be used. You pulled yourself up — shinnied up, if you will. Then you pushed the statue over the edge and on to poor Gilmore Grady, made your escape by shinnying down the flywire to the walkway and joined the rest of the cast during the confusion. Nobody saw you because you were dressed in black. You counted on that and the confusion."

"This is all a fairy tale," she said. "You have no proof."

I took the evidence bag from my pocket and leaned forward.

"Would you show me your feet please?"

Anna flushed. "What for?"

"Just do it."

Slowly she lifted her legs until the soles of her stockings showed. I came around the desk and knelt down to get a good look.

There were tears and rips in the stockings. Putting the strands I had found in the loft next to the stockings, I nodded in satisfaction and stood up.

"The threads I found in the loft match your stockings, Anna. You were up there. I can prove it."

She looked at me with flashing eyes, then blinked rapidly as tears formed. Holding my gaze for a few seconds, she looked away, put her hands to her face and started to cry.

"Gilmore had no right to replace me. I can still play a convincing 'Ophelia'. Where would I go? Look at me." She stood up and spread her arms. "I have nothing to offer. I'm plain. Old." She spat out the last word and sank back into the chair. "This job is all I have! It's my life." She put her hands over her face and cried.

I felt a surge of sympathy for the sobbing creature sitting across from me. As a rule I have nothing but contempt for the perpetrator and go home feeling good about bringing them to justice. But there are exceptions to the rule. This was one of them.

And though she be but little, she is fierce. "A Midsummer's Night Dream," Act three, scene two. Trust me. I looked it up.


Herschel Cozine has published extensively in the children's field. His stories and poems have appeared in many of the national children's magazines. Work by Herschel has also appeared in Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazines, Wolfmont Press Toys For Tots Anthologies and Woman's World. Additionally he has had many stories appear in Orchard Press Mysteries, Mouth Full Of Bullets, Untreed Reads, Great Mystery and Suspense, Mysterical-E and others. His story, "A Private Hanging" was a finalist for the Derringer award. Retired from a career in electronics, he has resumed his writing career after an extended hiatus. Herschel lives with his wife, Sue, in Santa Rosa, California, close to his children and grandchildren.


Copyright 2011 Herschel Cozine. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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