Authors: Elizabeth Flynn
But what met his eyes once he got past the van obliterated all thoughts of anybody playing around, or stage props filled with blanks.
Like an awful parody of the show, the bulkhead light above the stage door shone down on a man sprawled motionless on the ground where he had fallen. The light reflected on a spreading pool of blood seeping from the back of his neck. As the bouncer at his heels stopped in his tracks and let fly several expletives, Gary hurried to the fallen man and hunkered down, trying not to disturb anything. He took hold of the unresisting wrist – no discernible pulse. Ignoring the doorman now speaking urgently into his walkie-talkie (“Tango One to Foxtrot Four, Tango One to Foxtrot Four, dammit! Come in someone!”), Gary pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket and punched in the emergency number.
Only one other person was present, on the far side of the alley. As he spoke into the phone Gary’s eyes travelled up from the feet. He saw the black trousers and shirt, unchanged since the performance had finished, the shiny, silvery waistcoat
which had glinted and glistened under the spotlights just a short while earlier. Finally, Gary met the horrified, staring eyes of Brendan Phelan.
Beyond recognizing that the star of the show seemed to be in deep shock, Gary busied himself with calling the emergency services. Behind the van he heard the stage door open and a man came hurrying into view round the end of the vehicle. He stopped abruptly at the sight of Gary bending down close to the body. “What the –? Hey! What are you doing? Oh no – that’s – is it – blood?”
“Yes. Police.” With his free hand, Gary reached for his badge and held it aloft for the new arrival to see. He lowered his phone away from his mouth momentarily. “Deal with him,” he barked, nodding towards the frozen Brendan Phelan.
The newcomer broke out of his appalled fixation to spare a thought for the traumatized performer. “Hey, come on, Brendan; it’s all right, mate.” He went towards the other man. “Let’s get you inside.”
“No!” said Gary, breaking off from giving instructions to the operator. “He’s probably a significant witness. It’s best we don’t disturb the scene. Get him what he needs – a chair, a coat. A hot drink, if there’s a machine handy. He needs to be kept warm; he’s in shock, I think. When you come back, walk in a wide circle to get round to him, OK?”
The man gulped, nodded and moved quickly back through the stage door. Gary, relieved at the sensible way he took the instruction, finished the call and spoke to the singer. “Don’t worry, Mr Phelan; you just stand right there and we’ll soon get you sorted. Don’t move around, or you might tread on something important.”
Brendan, his eyes never leaving the dead man, gave an infinitesimal nod. Having finished the 999 call, Gary quickly scrolled through his contacts and found the number of his boss, Detective Inspector Angela Costello. She picked up the phone very quickly.
“Hi, Angie – what? Oh yes, it was great, thanks. Listen, there’s been an incident here at the theatre; someone’s been shot. I’ve made the official call, but as our lot are on the roster for tonight I’m giving you the heads-up.” He broke off the conversation and stood up hastily as a small crowd of people erupted through the stage door with shouts of “What’s going on?” and “Is it Oliver?”
“Stop!” called Gary. “Stay right there. Don’t come any closer, please. You might contaminate a crime scene.” Like a small flock of sheep kept at bay by a Border Collie, they came to an instant standstill, bunched close together in the alley. Gary could feel their shock and bewilderment. “I’m a police officer,” he began, but another man, seemingly going about his normal business, pushed a second large crate through the door towards the one already there.
This wouldn’t do. “Please! Stop that!” Gary ordered, aware of all eyes on him. The latest arrival straightened up in astonishment, taking in the tense atmosphere and strange silence from his colleagues.
A puzzled look stole over his face. “I’m only starting on the get-out for tomorrow,” he protested. Then his jaw dropped as he noticed the murdered man. “What the –? What happened?” He turned to the silent bunch of theatre staff. “What’s going on?”
Gary didn’t hear if anyone answered him. He felt himself gripped by a sudden, overwhelming sense of panic. A corpse – all these people – the bouncer looming – Madeleine waiting – Angela at the other end of the line… He was a small boy
again. He didn’t know what to do. He could feel himself beginning to hyperventilate.
Just at that moment, the first man came back. A lightweight folding chair and a warm-looking coat were tucked under one arm and he held a steaming polystyrene cup in his other hand. He stepped carefully in a wide circle around the body and reached Brendan Phelan; a sensible man doing as he’d been bidden. Gary felt comforted at the sight and calmed down a little. From somewhere he dredged up the instruction to take a deep, slow breath. It helped even more. A small part of his panicked brain allowed a chink of rational light to shine on the situation. So far, he had always arrived at a scene of crime in the company of a team of officers, in response to a summons. He took another deep breath and although his legs felt decidedly wobbly, the panic began to subside.
“Will everybody please go back into the building? This is a crime scene and it mustn’t be disturbed,” he called out, in the most authoritative tone he could muster. Aware that Angela, on the other end of the line, could hear him, he cursed the slight shake in his voice. “Nor should anything be added,” he said, pointing towards the crate that had just arrived. “My colleagues are on their way.”
The backstage crew began retreating cautiously and with some reluctance through the door. Gary could hear them telling the newcomer that he was from the police.
“Sorry, officer,” said the latest arrival. “I’ll sort it.” He began pulling at the crate. Its castors rasped and grated on the uneven concrete, initially rolling the crate closer to the one already there. As he huffed and puffed with the effort, Gary turned away to shield himself from the noise, put his free hand to his ear and spoke into the phone.
“Got it, Angie? Great. Can you ask Patrick to ring Maddie and let her know? She’s only up on the main road but I can’t
leave the scene until someone turns up, obviously. OK – thanks. See you soon.” He looked around him. The bouncer who’d chased him down the alley had gone back to his colleague. He’d made contact with whomever he reported to and Gary had heard the crackly orders to wait there coming through the instrument.
Brendan, now seated and enveloped in the coat, sipped at the drink as he stared at nothing in particular. In spite of the coat, Gary could see him shivering. Even at this late hour, it was pleasantly warm, so he guessed he’d been right about the singer being in shock. The other man stood by him, a comforting hand on his shoulder.
“Are you all right, Mr Phelan?” asked Gary. He thought Brendan gave a slight nod but he couldn’t be sure.
“OK, Bren,” said the other man, in a soothing voice. “We’ll soon have you inside in the warm; just got to wait a bit until the police get here.” A more visible nod was the only response.
“What’s your name?” asked Gary.
“Don Buckley. I’m the manager of the support act, Foursquare.”
“Thanks for your help.”
Brendan Phelan moved his head to look up at Gary. His eyes had lost a little of their glassiness and he was working his mouth, trying to speak.
“Do you want to say something, Mr Phelan?”
Brendan’s mouth opened and shut a few times, but eventually a sound came out. “Why?”
“Why?” repeated Gary, and after a moment: “Why what, sir?”
“Why can’t I move?”
The words came out on a sob.
He’d moved from his original standing position, but Gary didn’t think it would be helpful to point this out. “You’re in shock, Mr Phelan,” he said, gently. “Don’t worry, sir, help will be here any minute now.” He looked towards the theatre to try to get an angle on what Brendan might have seen as the gun fired. The van blocked most of his view of the stage door. He could only assume the shot came from that direction. The stuff he’d already noticed piled on top of the vehicle could have shielded someone. He took note; it would all be properly looked at later. It seemed possible the sound he’d heard of a door banging had been the noise of the killer escaping back into the theatre.
A moment later he saw a shadow out of the corner of his eye. He turned and saw one of the bouncers inching the gate open to allow a man to come through. He carried himself with an air of authority. Relieved, Gary guessed he was a fellow policeman. “Local CID?” he asked.
The newcomer nodded and flashed his badge. “D.S. Hoskins,” he replied. “I was nearby when I got the call; the operator said something about a detective constable phoning the incident in?”
“Yes. That was me.” Gary moved away from Brendan and Don and lowered his voice. “I’m a D.C. with Homicide Assessment. I was in the audience here tonight. I’ve alerted my team as well, because…” Gary’s voice tailed off as he realized he had no need to explain about the relationship of his girlfriend to his boss.
The other man, taking his comments on purely professional grounds, nodded and grinned in sympathy. “That makes sense. Your lot are probably going to get it anyway.” He flicked his eyes briefly towards Brendan. “Rather you than us, if you ask me. This will be a high-profile case and we can do without the aggro.”
Gary nodded. Now help had arrived he wanted to check on Madeleine. “I’d like to pop out to the main road, if you don’t mind holding the fort.”
“No problem; I’ll protect the scene. The ambulance should be here any minute.”
“Right, thanks. I’ll alert those bouncers. We’ll need access.”
A crack appeared in the gates as Gary approached. “Thanks,” he said to the nearest bouncer.
“All right, mate,” replied the man, as he slipped through. He hoped Madeleine would still be there, but thought it likely that Patrick had now phoned her and she’d set off for her home on her own.
But no, Madeleine was waiting where he had left her. He hurried across. “Sorry,” he said.
She smiled. “Don’t worry, I’m fine.” She nodded along the pavement and, turning his head, he saw a crowd of people hovering. He could hear a buzz of several speculative conversations “They’re getting wind of something up,” confirmed Madeleine. “Some of them are worrying something is wrong with Brendan.”
He heard the slight anxiety in her own voice. “He’s all right,” he said, “but I can’t say any more than that.” She nodded her understanding and muttered her relief, but her voice was drowned out by the sound of a siren. Looking in the direction of the noise, they saw an ambulance closely followed by the Homicide Assessment Team car tearing around from the Broadway. Gary turned back to the gates.
“Here we go,” he said to the bouncers.
“OK,” came the reply and the gates began to move open.
“There’s quite a crowd here,” Gary called.
“It’s all right, sir,” said the larger of the two. “We’ll keep everybody but the police out.”
“Thanks,” replied Gary. He turned back to Madeleine.
“This could turn into a long night,” he said.
“Yes, I know.” She smiled and at that moment a “beep-beep” attracted his attention. He looked in the direction of the sound to see Angela’s car approaching. She waved at him from the driving seat, slowing down but making no attempt to turn in through the gates. Instead, Madeleine called out, “Night-night, Gary,” blew him a kiss, swapped places with her stepmother, and pulled out into the traffic. Gary smiled at her retreating tail lights and waved. Her hand fluttered back momentarily through the half-open driver’s window before the stream of vehicles swallowed her up.
, he thought,
while I was guarding the scene, they got themselves organized, like a good team should.
He’d noticed their relationship seemed to be developing pleasantly. It had seemed to him that when Madeleine had moved back home to live, Angela had been apprehensive about it, probably wondering if she would find herself compared, unfavourably, to Madeleine’s mother, who’d died while she’d still been a little girl. It looked as though her fears were proving groundless.
He beamed as Detective Inspector Angela Costello hurried to where he stood. Her dark brown waves bobbed around her head and a smart royal blue jacket, unbuttoned, flapped open as she moved. She held an “evening out” shoulder bag in her hand but he knew it would still contain her police notebook, an evidence bag and some rubber gloves. He recognized his relief at her presence. She could take over now.
“You got here quickly,” he said, falling into step beside her.
“Evening, Gary – oh, hang on; is it?” She looked at her watch. “Ah yes, it’s not midnight yet. I wasn’t at home,” she explained. “Patrick and I were having a meal, just on the other side of the river, as it happens. What have we got?”
“It looks like a fatality, and a deeply suspicious one.”
“Did you try for a pulse?”
“Yes, I couldn’t feel one.”
“Shot, you said.”
“It looks like it; in the back of the neck.”
“Oh, my! It doesn’t get much more suspicious than that.” They were now through the gates. They’d walked a short distance along the alley when Angela stopped. “OK, Gary, give me a rundown.”
“The dead man might be someone called Oliver,” he said. “From the street I heard a shot and what sounded like a door banging and came running.” Gary then went over the event as briefly as he could, finishing up with when he’d been on the phone to Angela. “I managed to make everyone go back inside. One of them even tried to bring out another crate but I got him to take it back again.”
“Yes, I heard that bit through the phone. Let’s hope he hasn’t messed up any forensics.”
“Sorry, he was bringing it through the door before I could stop him.”
Angela realized that having been first on the scene, Gary was worried about how he’d handled everything. She remembered the nervous quality to his voice as he was speaking to her on the phone. “Not to worry, Gary. We all get caught on the hop now and again. You’d just gone out to see a concert and got lumbered.”
As he’d guessed, she had rubber gloves in her bag. She took them out, put them on, approached the crate and lifted the lid. They found themselves gazing down on a sizeable collection of neatly coiled extension leads. Angela closed down the lid gently. She looked at the body. “I suppose there’s a good chance that whoever fired the gun might have been standing by the van.” She cast her eyes over the whole scene again. “They would have been shielded from view.”
“Yes, you’re right, they could have been,” replied Gary.
“Yes, indeed,” Angela nodded and looked back at the van. “I wonder what that stuff is doing on the top there; there’s no rack for it to be attached to.”
Gary looked with her. Now that he was able to look properly he could see that the box was actually a long, narrow crate; some kind of clear, coloured plastic in a frame leaned up against the end it. The bin bag flapped gently as if trying to break free from its moorings. “I noticed that from the street,” he said.
Angela looked at him and raised her eyebrows. “What do you reckon?”
“I reckon a person could hide behind that and shoot someone in the alley here.”
Angela nodded. “I think you might be right.” She glanced up at the stage door. “Aha! Will this make our job easier, I wonder?”