Authors: P. M. Briede
Book 1 of the Empathy Delacroix Series
Copyright 2015 by P.M. Briede
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
California Times Publishing
THE CHARLOTTE GRACE SERIES
THE EMPATHY DELACROIX SERIES
Death of a Chorus Girl
Coming Soon: Don’t Drink the Nine
Discover more at:
instinctively raise my arms. I stand there, stunned, staring into the eyes of someone I thought I knew.
How have I been so blind?
Steve leans to the side, hollering for her again, and his arm shifts slightly to my left. His eyes grow wide, so I twist to see what it is that has surprised him. I don’t get a chance to see it, though. A deathly quiet falls over the room before the sound of gunfire pierces the silence. One shot quickly follows another. I don’t blink as they go off. A burn explodes in my arm. Blood spatter rains down on the space in front of me. I fall to my knees, stunned, when I realize she pulled the trigger.
Four Months Earlier
Richard Giordano: Ethel Barrymore Theatre
“Dick, we’ve got a call out.” I lift my head when I hear the nickname my partner, Steve Beauregard, insists on using, no matter how many times I ask him to call me Rich. The day has been slow so far, but it never seems to finish that way.
I grab my things off the desk and follow my partner to my department issued Charger as I put my arms through my holster and jacket. The hazy sight of the heat-distorted scenery turns my stomach once we get outside. New York during a heat wave is like hell on earth. “Where we headed, Steve?” I ask. I hope it is air-conditioned.
“Ethel Barrymore Theatre,” he answers. “The hoity toitys had themselves an accident that now looks like murder.” The derision he holds for the theater circuit is evident. Steve always says being the biggest tourist draw in Manhattan is what attracts the criminals like moths to a flame. There is easy money there, and he hates the daily talks with different travelers who end up duped by some degenerate. “You know where that is?”
“Yup,” I answer and merge into traffic, flipping on our lights. He asks every time we head out on a case, as if it matters. Every car is equipped with GPS. The disembodied female voice guides us to Forty-Seventh Street.
By the time we get there, the area is cordoned off. Onlookers are already surrounding the barricades, snapping photos as if this is a Law and Order shoot. I walk past them with hardly a sideways glance. The patrol cops lookout for anyone acting suspiciously.
“What do we know?” I ask the first patrol cop we see.
“Apparently, a lighting rig broke free and crashed onto the stage,” the cop promptly responds. “We were initially called out to see if it was an accident or not. But as we cleared debris we saw the blood then found the body.” We take the steps up to the stage, which is crowded with scantily clad men and women, all huddling in little clusters. They all appear upset, which they should, someone is dead, but there is one woman all alone and off to the side.
The woman is upset like the others; her puffy, red-rimmed eyes say as much. Her build marks her as part of the cast. Long legs merge into a slim waist, which supports her long, slender frame. A delicate neck sits upon her shoulders, and her skin is pale with a creamy quality. Her face is captivating, immediately making an imprint on my mind. The cheekbones are high and defined, the lips plump and inviting. Brunette locks are in some kind of knot that most of the women are sporting. There is one bit that keeps falling across her face, and she constantly moves to tuck it back behind her ear. But her eyes are what catch my attention, even across the stage. They are wide and expressive, looking as if they witnessed the horrific tragedy first hand.
I have only taken a couple of steps towards her when the patrol cop’s voice pulls me up to a halt. “Mr. Worthy has been waiting for the lead detective, sir.”
Damn! That’s me
. I shake my head and blink the woman out of my senses as I turn in the direction the patrol cop indicated. I find a man in an expensive suit that probably cost as much as I make in six months standing on the opposing side of the stage. He looks to be around my age and is maybe a few inches shorter than me, but still over six feet. And while I’m no slouch, this guy is dense. His head and face are angular, his neck thick, and the shoulders broad. His torso falls straight from his shoulders to his hips, and the cut of his pants tells me his legs aren’t twigs.
The prospect of the expensive brute trying to bully his way around for some type of special treatment makes me tense. I take one last glance back at the woman.
“Don’t worry, Dick,” Steve offers as his hand clasps my shoulder. “I’ll take care of legs over there. Give her a nice shoulder to cry on, if you know what I mean.” He chuckles to himself as he stalks over to her. Sighing, I return my attention back to Mr. Worthy.
I stand ignored for at least five minutes while he finishes his phone call. When he finally notices me, it is with a look that silently demands, “Who are you?” and “Why are you here.” I square my shoulders and straighten my back to take full advantage of every inch I have over him. “Mr. Worthy? I’m Detective Richard Giordano. You were waiting for me?”
The irritation from before is smoothed away and replaced by a slick smile of assumed camaraderie. “Detective, thank you so much for coming. Call me Tom.” He says it like he is welcoming me to some exclusive party he is throwing and tosses an arm over my shoulders. We move to the backstage area, with him guiding the way. “How much longer do you think this is going to take? I need to keep this incident from hitting the papers. Investors get antsy about things like this.”
“Yeah, I can image death puts a sour note in a musical.”
His forced laugh is enough to tell me he didn’t notice my sarcasm. “Yes, it certainly does, detective. What do I need to do to protect my investment?”
It’s odd the way he never looks at me. I make a mental note to ask our witnesses where he was at the time of the accident. “I can’t do anything about keeping it out of the papers,” I explain only half paying attention to what I am saying. I had turned to gauge Steve’s progress with the lone woman. “That’s not my call, you understand.” Steve is standing closer than appropriate for an interview, and I can’t get a sense of the woman’s reaction. She is in the same spot from when I first saw her but she is gazing off into the seats, and I can’t see her face. “As much as we can, given your full cooperation, we’ll not announce this is a homicide investigation.”
“Homicide!” Worthy bellows, the word echoing through the theater. Steve’s eyes spin to meet mine as I cringe. How have I become so concerned over a strange woman to let that slip? I close my eyes to take a deep breath. When I open them, her eyes are the only thing I see. There is just something about her.
“Detective, homicide?” Well, at least this time Worthy whispers it, even if it is more of a petulant hiss. He is aware that his outburst just kept his “accident” from staying under wraps. Every single person who heard him is going to tweet this out within seconds of being released from the scene.
“Easy there, Tom. All suspicious deaths are investigated as homicides until we can determine the cause of death,” I offer as I turn back to him, trying to smooth over my blunder. “The best thing you can do is answer a couple of questions for me. The sooner we get out of here, the sooner you can enlist your PR department.” All I get in response is a curt nod. Guess the false camaraderie disappeared the minute I put an end to his chances on containment. “Did you know the decedent?”
“She’s some chorus girl,” he states with an offhanded wave. “They were rehearsing today.”
“Can you give me a name?” He shrugs uncomfortably. “You don’t know her name?”
“Do you know every cop in your jurisdiction,
?” he seethes.
. The name of the patrol cop I was talking to before it became my distinct pleasure to talk to Worthy is currently a mystery. “If the chorus was rehearsing how come this girl was the only victim?”
“That’s a question for Em,” Worthy answers as he points to my lone woman. Well, now I have a name. Steve is off talking to other members of the chorus, which means his swarm for once hadn’t worked on a woman. I confirm with Tom that I need a list of every dancer in the theater, any stagehands in charge of lighting, and whomever else he can think of. Then I head towards her.
“Hey!” one of the crime scene techs hollers after I trip over some of the scattered pieces of the lighting rig. “Watch your step, Giordano!”
I hope that isn’t a key piece.
What is wrong with me?
“Sorry,” I mumble to the lab rat before resuming my previous course with a little more care for my route.
“Detective?” the patrol cop calls.
Christ, what now?!
“What?!” I growl, instantly regretting it.
His eyes grow wide, his lips thin, and he squares his shoulders in obvious indignation. “The coroner says you need to come inspect the site before the body can be taken back to the morgue.” His order complete, he spins on his heel and walks away.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath before heading over to the coroner, who also happens to be my best friend, Theodora Frisco, “What are we looking at here?”
She lifts her chin and flashes a sly smile. “Well, I’m looking at a corpse but you seem to be trapped by a pair of long legs.” Yup, that’s the Frisco I know and love. She places a companionable hand on my knee after I squat down next to her. “Don’t worry, Rich, every guy here has been tripping over themselves to console that one. Most were just able to avoid the evidence, that’s all.”
I ignore her jab and focus in on our chorus girl. She is long and fit, like everyone else on the stage, with drying blood unfortunately matting her blonde hair now. There are scratches, scrapes, and bruises all along her exposed skin, but I expect that given a lighting rig fell on her. However, I am not the expert, Frisco is, so I look at her expectantly.
“I won’t waste your time with what I know you see, especially since there is another pressing matter you want to offer your sympathies too.” I glare at her. I am going to catch enough shit from Steve and the guys at the precinct when word about this gets back there. I don’t need it right now, not from Frisco. “Alright, I’ll cut you a break. Did you notice her neck?”
I hadn’t, so I take a closer look. There is a hand shaped bruise pattern underneath the scratches and bruises from the rig. “She was strangled. How is that possible? If she were dead before the rig crushed her, there shouldn’t be this much blood.”
Frisco gives me a satisfied nod. “Unless the rig fell on her right after she was strangled not giving her body enough time to shut down.”
“Would it be possible she was still alive and the rig was used to finish her off?”
Frisco takes a moment to think, her eyes darting along all the injuries again. “Yeah, I’d say it’s possible. I’ll know more when I get her on the table.”
“Shouldn’t the dancers have noticed her lying on their stage dying as they twirled around her?”
“Not if they weren’t here,” Frisco reveals, contradicting what Worthy told me. “The little I’ve picked up, just in overhearing their conversations, is that the choreographer pulled them all off the stage maybe ten minutes before the crash.”
Finally! Information worth having! “Who’s the choreographer because I definitely need to start with them?”
Frisco shakes her head and gazes at me with pity. “Hate to break it to you, Rich, but she was
first on your list to talk to.” We both look to the front corner of the stage to find Em gone. “It’s also my understanding that she’s the one who first came back into the theater and found the crime scene.”
Empathy Delacroix: I’m Innocent
“Detective Giordano is out on a case right now.” The officer behind the desk appears confused after I ask to speak with Detective Steve Beauregard’s partner.
“I don’t mind waiting.”
“Is he expecting you, ma’am?”
I chew on my bottom lip for a minute to keep from smiling. “Not exactly, but he will want to talk to me.”
The desk officer furrows his brow. “Your name?”
There is a small spark of recognition on his face. He has heard my name even though he obviously doesn’t recognize where from. I get that a lot. Most of the women in Manhattan know exactly who I am, either from the Broadway shows they come to, the glitzy events that I attend which get my name and face in the papers, or the charity programs I participate in for arts education.
“Just sit here, ma’am,” he gestures to a bench against the wall behind me.
The events that brought me here swirl through my mind while I wait. My friend and employer, Tom Worthy, emerges at my side as soon as he was done speaking with Detective Giordano.
“You need to get out of here, Em.” The grip on my arm was painful as Tom dragged me through the backstage area to the rear exit. “I’ve already called my car around and my lawyer is waiting for you.”
“Exactly what are you doing, Tom?” I questioned while struggling to break free of him. “I’m pretty sure sneaking out the back is going to make me appear guilty of something.”
He didn’t release me until we were outside by his car. “You already look guilty. You aren’t but these guys don’t know anything about you, and they don’t care. They just want to wrap up this case as quickly as possible and put it all on one of us.
moved everyone out of the theatre ten minutes before the crash.
discovered the accident and called 911. Why did you cut for break so early?”