By BV Lawson

The combination dressing-and-rehearsal room was eerily silent, as crime consultant Scott Drayco gazed down at the body of April Garbee. The pianist looked elegant in death, the designer gown billowing around her in a shroud of white.

Her head lay on top of the pedals of the piano, with a small amount of blood underneath. A lipstick and an untouched paper cup full of steaming coffee sat on the far right side of the keyboard, as if patiently waiting for April’s attention.

Boston Symphony Hall security officer Race Pollard said, “Thanks for helping out, Drayco. This is over my head. We got two thousand people out there in the audience, two thousand possible suspects. I don’t know what the hell to do. The metro police said it could take them ten more minutes to get here. Between the snow, the Celtics’ game and the Seafood Expo at the Convention Center, it’s got them running around in circles.”

The only two other people in the room included a man standing in the doorway, and another in a tuxedo, seated in a chair and quietly weeping. Pollard nodded at the latter. “That’s April’s husband, Titus Garbee.”

Drayco noted the husband’s red face and bleary eyes. If the man’s grief wasn’t genuine, he was a good actor. But then, he had been an actor, hadn’t he? On Broadway, years ago. He’d even won a Tony Award.

Drayco was looking forward to April Garbee’s concert. As a former pianist himself, he could appreciate the talent that made her an international star. This event was to be a homecoming of sorts for her, the disadvantaged girl from the Columbia Point housing project on Boston’s Dorchester peninsula who beat the odds and grew up to make something of herself.

Her journey to fame and fortune wasn’t without its bumps — mostly gossip the Garbee marriage was on the rocks. Both Garbees’ names were linked off and on with other celebrities, the paparazzi catching them in compromising photos. April’s latest was an orchestra conductor. And her husband was recently seen in the company of a dancer half his age.

Drayco asked Titus Garbee, “Are you the one who found the body?”

But it was the man hovering in the doorway who spoke up. “I did. I’m her manager, Nick Kryder. I was outside the dressing room where she was practicing and was just about to give her the five-minute warning. I heard a loud thump, ran inside, and there she was, lying like that. She’d been having fainting spells lately. I guess she fell and hit her head. Dear god, I can’t believe this is happening.”

Titus Garbee spoke up. “She hasn’t had a fainting spell in weeks.”

Kryder looked at him sharply, “How would you know? You live in separate houses and are lucky if you see each other. Although now I think about it, I heard the two of you arguing about half hour ago.”

The husband still had tears streaking down his cheeks, but he sat up straighter. “It was nothing. We argue all the time. Doesn’t mean I killed her.”

Kryder said, “Oh, that’s rich. What about that little incident with the cocktail waitress found dead in your apartment last year after a night on the town?”

Garbee groaned. “It was an accident. I didn’t know she was taking Vicodin and antidepressants. She had too much to drink, that’s all.”

Kryder pressed him further, “Let’s talk about motive. Your wife’s Will left all her estate to you, didn’t it?”

Garbee put his head in his hands. “I don’t know, and I don’t care.”

Drayco watched their verbal sparring match with interest, but he didn’t have time to run up a psychological study. They had a house full of antsy patrons that included a couple of Massachusetts state senators in Row A, according to Officer Pollard.

He turned to April’s agent, “Since you walked in and found her like this, I assume the door wasn’t locked. Did you touch anything at all, other than the knob?”

Kryder shook his head vigorously. “I watch all those crime shows on television, so I know better. And yes, the door was unlocked.”

Drayco circled around the piano, studying it. Everything else about the Steinway seemed normal and ordinary, save for the body. The lipstick to the right of the keyboard he’d noticed earlier was uncapped and fully extended.

Drayco looked down at the body again. There were patches of newly-applied lipstick on her mouth, but they were uneven. And other patches looked like they’d worn off, yet the coffee cup was pristine — no lipstick.

He checked the dressing room closet and then the bathroom. There were makeup containers and street clothes, but little else belonging to the victim except for a makeup case, the lid flipped open. He peered inside, but most of the contents were already laid out on the counter. In the bottom of the case lay a pair of white gloves, with a pink smudge on the left glove and a faint beige smudge on the right.

He headed back into the main room, stopping to examine a vase perched on an end table. It held pink and red roses and what looked like sprigs of lavender. Although Drayco wasn’t a flower expert, the arrangement looked expensive. He read the attached card from Winston’s Flower Shop, “Break a Leg. Love, Titus.” Not exactly overflowing with personal sentiment.

Drayco eyed the husband, now wiping his face with a handkerchief. “You say your wife hadn’t had any fainting spells for awhile. Any other illnesses or conditions you know about?”

Garbee shook his head slowly. “She kept herself in good shape. Didn’t want to be like those fat sopranos everyone makes fun of.”

“Assuming that’s true for now and this wasn’t natural causes, then someone wanted her dead. Had there been any threats or warnings? Or had she been acting frightened lately?”

“My wife came from a harsh background. She also traveled the world, coming in contact with a wide variety of people, some nice, some not so nice. But despite all that, everyone who met her, adored her. And the only time she ever argued was with me.” Titus looked at Drayco with a defiant glint in his eye. “But show me one couple who doesn’t.”

Officer Pollard tapped his watch. “I hate to put pressure on you, Mr. Drayco, we’ve already held the house for fifteen minutes longer than usual.”

“I understand, Officer. What about the security cameras? Is there one trained on the entrance to this room?”

“There was, at one time. But it’s been broken for a couple of months. The budget’s kind of tight these days…” Pollard had an apologetic frown on his face.

Drayco asked him, “Have you made an announcement to the audience yet?”

The officer shook his head. “But I gotta make a decision soon. What the hell should I do?”

Drayco replied, “You can tell them the concert’s canceled, and they can go home.”

“But what if one of them is a murderer?”

Drayco said, “They aren’t. I think April was smothered, probably while the murderer was wearing the gloves I saw in her makeup case. The right one has a flesh-colored stain that likely matches her foundation. And the left glove has a touch of pink, about the same as that over there,” Drayco pointed to the lipstick on the piano.

He added, “The murderer put his left hand over her mouth and pinched her nose closed with his right. After she was dead, he staged the scene by dragging her over to the piano. Then he dropped her head down on the pedals, which is why there’s so little blood. In order for blunt head trauma to have killed her instantly, it would have resulted in massive blood loss.”

Pollard shook his head. “I guess I follow, but how do you know it wasn’t someone out in the audience?”

“Because your murderer is right over there.” Drayco pointed at Nick Kryder. “Her agent is the one who killed her.”

Kryder gasped and started stuttering, “That’s preposterous. As I told you — I was just the one who found her body.”

Drayco explained, “But she couldn’t have been practicing, as you said. The lipstick and coffee cup are perched next to the keyboard, where there was a likelihood of them falling off. She was wearing a white dress with no backup outfit in the closet, so I doubt she would have taken such a huge risk of getting it stained. You probably even staged the coffee cup, to make it look like she’d been seated at the piano.”

Pollard still looked doubtful. “Are you sure about all this, Drayco? With no witnesses, where’s the evidence?”

“How about right here?” Drayco grabbed Kryder’s left hand, holding it up for the others to see. On the edge of Kryder’s white shirt cuff lay a pink smudge. Drayco explained, “Left over from when he was wearing those gloves I saw in her makeup case. Gloves he wore to place his hand over April’s mouth.”  

Without warning, Titus Garbee launched himself at Kryder with a low growl and wrapped his hands around the other man’s throat. By the time Officer Pollard and Drayco managed to pull Garbee off, Kryder was gasping for air and sporting red finger-shaped marks that would likely leave purple bruises in the morning.

“You bastard,” Garbee yelled. “Was it blackmail or were you having an affair with her?”

Kryder shook his head, croaking out in a hoarse whisper, “She didn’t tell you, did she?”

“Tell me what, for god’s sake?”

“Those fainting spells she was having. They weren’t just blood sugar attacks, as she told people. She was diagnosed with stage four glioblastoma. The worst kind of brain tumor. Inoperable. The doctors said she had seven months.”

A deflated Kryder almost seemed to fold in on himself at that moment, as he continued, “She was facing seizures, paralysis, confusion, and finally coma. I couldn’t see her end up like that. Not her. Not April. What if she had a seizure out there on stage? She wouldn’t want people to remember her that way.” 

Drayco helped a shaking Kryder sit down on a bench, keeping a close eye on the man. Kryder glanced over in Titus Garbee’s direction and said softly, “I loved her, too, you know.”

Drayco thought about a recording April made a few years ago featuring music by composers Charles Ives and Edward MacDowell. One of the MacDowell pieces was “With Sweet Lavender” from the New England Idylls.

Wasn’t lavender the symbol for devotion?  And roses symbolized love. As Drayco looked at the flower arrangement on the table and then glanced from one grieving man to the other, he could hear strains from that song playing in his mind. A song filled with notes of longing, loss and regret. It was clear April Garbee was loved all right — loved to death.

Stories and poems by BV Lawson have appeared in dozens of national and regional
magazines and anthologies, including Absent Willow Review, Cantaraville, ESC! Magazine, Fringe Magazine, Needle, Noir Journal, Rose and Thorn, Saturday Evening Post Online, Static Movement, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Woman's World, and various anthologies. The author also operates the blog "In Reference to Murder," and a web site bvlawson.com.

BV's debut novel featuring Scott Drayco, PLAYED TO DEATH, was published in 2014 via Crimetime Press.

Copyright 2015 BV Lawson. 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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