Authors: Elizabeth Flynn
Gary followed the direction of her eyes and found himself looking at a security camera mounted on the wall. He felt himself blush. “Oops, I hadn’t noticed that. I should have clocked it before now.”
“Stop beating yourself up, Gary. You’ve only got two eyes and they were fully occupied. This is why we work in teams.”
Her attention was drawn to noise and movement in the stage doorway as more of the local CID and a forensics team arrived. They’d obviously made their way in through the theatre itself.
She nodded. “OK, we’d better get started.” She nodded in the direction of the star of the show. “The man himself, I presume. I think I recognize him from the television.”
Angela went over to Brendan Phelan, carefully avoiding the dead man. “Mr Phelan, I’m D.I. Angela Costello. We’re going to try to get you inside as soon as we can, sir.”
Brendan’s eyes flickered but he didn’t look up at her.
Angela decided to give it a try anyway. “Can you tell me what happened, Mr Phelan?” she asked.
This time Brendan blinked and seemed to engage with his surroundings but almost immediately a look of horror crossed his face. He worked his mouth again. “A bang,” he whimpered eventually. “He looked really…” Words failed him, his face began to crumple and Angela realized it wouldn’t be fair to press him. She looked up at the man beside him.
“This is Don Buckley, Angie,” explained Gary. “The manager of the support act. He’s been very helpful.”
“Thanks, Don,” said Angela. “Will you go inside with Mr Phelan? We’ll have a police doctor here any minute, but –”
“That’s OK,” said Don. “There’s a theatre doctor. I’m sure someone’s called her by now.” He leaned down to his charge. “OK, Bren, we’re going inside now, going to get you sorted.” He helped the singer to stand up and, carefully retracing his original circle, they disappeared into the theatre.
Angela watched as they disappeared from sight. “Has Brendan Phelan been out here all this time?”
“Yes,” confirmed Gary. “Just where you saw him, but he was standing at first.”
Right, well, I hope he’s going to be all right.” She turned to Gary. “You brief the scene of crime officers.”
“I’ll see you when you’re finished out here. I’m going inside. Whatever was going on must have started there.” Angela made a wide circle round to the door and went in. She looked briefly into the deserted area where the stage doorman must normally sit. She moved on, pushing open a couple of doors where she came into a wider space. Several crates similar to the one outside stood in a neat stack against the wall. She lifted the lid and looked into one. Like the one outside it
contained a jumble of electric cables and extension sockets. Heavy black curtains hung in front of her, but a slight chink showed a light through to a further dimly lit space, and she made for it. She passed three standing microphones, stopped between two keyboards and gazed at a drum kit set at the back of the area.
Ah, I’ve just come from the wings and I’m now on stage
, she realized, and allowed herself a moment’s frisson of wonder. Rich, red drapes now hung before her. She guessed them to be the curtains separating the performers from the audience and allowed herself to imagine, for a brief moment, what it must be like to be a star, to have these curtains open onto your audience. She smiled and shook her head as another picture took over. Scenes from a variety of comedies flashed through her mind and she recalled images of hapless characters looking foolish as they got caught up in stage curtains in an attempt to reach the front.
I don’t think so
, she thought.
She took her mobile phone out of her bag and called up one of her sergeants, Rick Driver. “Rick, it’s me. I’m on the stage. Where are you? OK, I don’t know how to get to the auditorium, will you…? Thanks.”
After a few moments she heard the sound of a door opening to one side and footsteps approaching. Detective Sergeant Rick Driver appeared.
“We’re round here, Angie. There’s a pass door through to the auditorium and we’ve got everybody assembled there.”
“Ah, good; just take me through and then go and bring Gary in as soon as he’s finished what he’s doing.”
Angela came into the brightly lit auditorium, and as the hum of animated chatter rose to greet her, she took in the scene. About thirty people were sprawled out along the first few rows of the stalls. Some, from their uniforms, could be easily identified as front-of-house staff. Here and there a
few small groups of people in ordinary working clothes had huddled together and looked as though they’d been practising card tricks with each other; she noted a couple of deft shuffling movements as the cards seemed to whizz through the air to be caught neatly into single blocks in the hand.
Not a sight you see often
, she thought.
It makes a change from having everyone huddled over smartphones.
Three women, one in a dressing gown and two in evening dress, she surmised to be part of the show, along with two men in sparkly waistcoats similar to the one Brendan had been wearing. She hadn’t followed Brendan Phelan’s career, but was sure she’d seen him performing on television accompanied by a band and trio of backing singers. The rest seemed to be in ordinary clothes and she assumed they were the behind-the-scenes staff. Somebody had to work the lights and sound. In spite of the chatter, their faces were grim and pale. A young girl in the middle of the front row was weeping audibly and being comforted by one of the men.
Angela moved forward. “Good evening, everybody; thank you for your patience. I’m Detective Inspector Angela Costello. I’m sorry, we’re going to have to ask you all to stay a little longer.”
You liar, Angie
, she thought to herself.
We’ll all be here for a good while yet.
She recognized her own tiredness mirrored in the faces of everybody in front of her. She and Patrick had enjoyed a very pleasant evening in one of their favourite restaurants and were looking forward to going home to bed when the call had come through.
The thin young man with the hawk tattoos on his arms, backpack swung casually over one shoulder, watched the ambulance and police cars from a safe distance. He edged closer to the crowd gathering around the entrance to the side alley and listened to the excited rumours about the shooting. He heard someone say that Brendan Phelan had been gunned
down – killed. This caused near-hysteria among some of the women bystanders, so that he could hear nothing coherent for several minutes. Then, over the heads of the crowd, the loud authoritative voice of someone who announced himself as Detective Sergeant Hoskins called out that Brendan had been taken into the theatre in a state of shock, there was nothing any of them could do, and they should all go home and learn about it from the news. The voice fell on deaf ears; nobody budged an inch, except to try to move closer.
His body tensed at this point and his eyes widened. He’d been aware of the conversation that was due to take place just after the show and knew everything had always gone very smoothly before. Once he’d spotted the first journalist on the scene, he retreated further and stood, irresolute. A few minutes later, the sight of a night bus heading in the right direction made up his mind.
The journey took very little time. A convenient connection to another bus got him across the river and forty minutes later he was forcing the lock on the door of a flat near the Elephant and Castle.
He moved swiftly over to the desk where the computer sat and pulled out the top drawer. Everything he needed was there. He emptied out the contents, hastily stuffing them into the backpack. He cast an appraising glance at the computer but left it there. He gave a last look round at the familiar room. The place was in chaos – a confused muddle of belongings flung randomly into every corner. He let himself out, with a quick glance around the empty street to make sure he was unobserved.
Angela didn’t get much beyond her initial introduction before she was interrupted. “Will you please tell us exactly what’s going on?” The voice, a strange mix of nervousness and pomposity, came from a man in an evening suit, sitting with a group of uniformed people several rows back.
“May I have your name, sir?”
“I’m Barry Grieves. I’m the front-of-house manager. We were told there’s been an ‘incident’ and that nobody is to leave the theatre.” He took another breath to continue, but Angela moved in quickly.
“Yes, there’s been what looks like a very serious incident outside the stage door; a suspected fatality.” She remembered the blood oozing from the victim’s head. A doctor would by now have pronounced life extinct; even so, she must be cautious, not pre-empt the news.
Her words stopped the front-of-house manager from making whatever comment he had prepared. “Oh – I – er – er…” He opened his mouth and shut it again a few times before contenting himself with a muttered, “Well, that’s terrible, of course.”
Angela didn’t take a lot of notice because her attention – and that of everyone else in the place – was drawn to the low anguished moan coming from the young girl in the front row.
“Ohhhhh! It’s not Bren, is it?” A sob escaped her. “Tell me it’s not Bren!”
, thought Angela.
Why do you think Brendan might be the victim?
“Although he’s in shock,” she
said, “Brendan Phelan doesn’t appear to be harmed in any way.”
“Ohhhh! Thank God,” breathed the girl. The depth of her relief caused fresh tears to overflow her eyes and pour down her cheeks. The man beside her folded her into a comforting embrace and muttered soft, soothing words. Angela watched the numerous small movements among the others, noting several people raising their eyebrows at this small drama, exchanging glances with each other.
, she thought,
undercurrents to be explored here.
Almost immediately she picked up on a name, mouthed in some quarters and whispered audibly in others. Heads shook and nodded in covert exchanges, shoulders and hands were shrugged in discreet expressions of supposition and conjecture.
Angela remained silent, looking carefully around at them all.
Someone’s going to just come right out and say it in a minute
, she thought.
She didn’t have long to wait.
Just below her on the end of the front row sat a trio of men, two wearing the sparkly waistcoats, the third in black jeans and T-shirt. After a little more nodding and shaking of heads it seemed the assembled staff looked to this man as spokesperson.
With reluctance he accepted the unspoken but evident election that singled him out. He looked up at her. “So – is it Oliver, then?” he asked.
The atmosphere relaxed as the question came out into the open.
“We’re not sure yet, but it’s possible. You have a colleague called Oliver, I presume.”
Again they all looked towards the unofficial spokesman. “We have,” he answered. “Oliver Joplin, he’s a roadie, of sorts.” Angela detected a sneer in his tone.
“Is it possible this Oliver went home early, or just didn’t hear the summons to gather here?”
The spokesman raised himself slightly in his seat and gazed all around. “He’s the only one missing. Of course, we haven’t looked under the chairs.” His sneer became more pronounced. “Do you want us to do a search?”
Hello, Mr Angry, what’s your problem?
thought Angela. Even first thing in the morning when she felt full of energy she wasn’t prepared to play games with witnesses; in the run-up to midnight the idea was a non-starter. “May I have your name please, sir?” she asked, in a carefully polite and formal tone.
“I’m Terry Dexter, musician/songwriter/lead guitarist.”
“Thank you,” she replied, not bothering to take up his challenge. “We’re going to need statements from each of you. My officers will deal with that and we’ll try not to keep you any longer than we have to.”
“It’s OK,” returned the man, with an unmistakable undercurrent of sarcasm. “It’s not like we wanted to get our things ready for a charity performance at the O2 tomorrow night, or anything.”
Angela walked to the edge of the stage. She kept her manner relaxed and her face expressionless. “At the O2?”
The man who had been comforting the young woman further along the front row spoke up. “Yes, Inspector. Brendan is one of the acts in a gala for a children’s charity. It’s a big event. That’s why I’d taken one of the flight cases outside and was bringing another one through when your bloke – er – one of your officers – said to take it back inside.”
“Yes, it’s what we transport the equipment and stuff in. We’re taking some over there for the show.”
“Oh, you mean the big, black crate things by the van and at the back of the stage?”
“Wow! She’s got it! ‘Big, black crate thing’, no: flight case, yes,” said Terry Dexter.
Angela made a point of addressing herself to the second man. “That whole area is a crime scene at the moment and it won’t be possible to do anything there until the forensic team have finished.”
“I understand,” he replied. Along the row, Angela’s antagonist let out a huge sigh but said nothing.
“OK,” she said, addressing the assembled company. “Can you tell me who’s in charge here?”
The man comforting the girl gently disentangled himself and stood up. Another man, further back, got up and eased his way past the people in his row. “May I see you two gentlemen backstage, please?” She turned and went back through the pass door, preparing to feel her way through the gloom but, as she negotiated the wings, lights suddenly came on bathing the whole area in a harsh glare. She moved into centre stage. Gary appeared at the back as he came through from the alley where she’d left him. “Hi, Gary, stick with me. I’m going to try to get an angle of the way things work. How’s the star of the show?”
“I think he’s coming to a bit now, but he’s still shocked. The doctor’s taken him to his dressing room. One of the forensic guys came in and checked him for powder burns and went through his pockets; they found nothing and he’s handed his clothes over for testing.”
“So far, so good, then,” replied Angela. “It would upset a whole army of fans if they knew, but we can’t rule him out as a suspect.”
“He’s really knocked sideways, though, Angie.”
Gary nodded. “Yes, you’re right. The doc’s going to give him a sedative. She said she wants him to go home to bed as soon as possible, though.”
“I don’t have a problem with that. We need him clear-headed when we interview him.” She turned round at the sound of the two men from the front joining them on stage. “Did you turn the lights on?” she asked the one who had been sitting with the girl.
“Yes,” he nodded.
“Thank you. I’ll be right with you, gentlemen,” she said, and turned back to Gary. “Where are Rick and Jim?”
“Here,” called Rick. His voice came from the still-darkened wings at the other side of the stage from where Angela had entered. “Hey!” the curtains jerked and swung. Shapes were punched into them as Rick fought his way through – the pitfall Angela had avoided earlier.
She laughed. “Curtains one, Rick nil,” she said as he finally emerged looking a little red in the face. “OK, we’ll be here for a while. All those people sitting in the auditorium need to be questioned. Can you get started on that? Has anyone else arrived?”
“Leanne and Derek – and a couple of uniforms.”
“That’s good.” She turned to the two men. “It about time we were introduced.”
They moved towards her. The taller one of the two held out his hand. “I’m Doug Travers, Brendan Phelan’s manager.” Angela noted his crumpled linen suit and an open-necked shirt. The style aimed for nonchalance but the strain around his mouth and eyes told a different story. Angela would have been surprised if it had been otherwise. She shook his hand and looked towards the other man.
He moved a little closer. “I’m Jack Waring, the production manager.”
“Does that mean you’re responsible for all this?” asked Angela with a sweeping gesture.
“Only the equipment we bring in with us. Of course, what’s already here belongs to the theatre.”
“I see,” she nodded. “We’ll need two or three rooms where we can interview people. Is that going to be a problem?”
“Not at all,” replied Doug. “I know there are a couple of dressing rooms not in use at the moment.” He took out a mobile phone from his inside pocket. “Let me just make a call. There’s bound to be somewhere front of house you can use as well.”
“That would be very helpful, thank you.” She looked at Jack. “If the dead man is this Oliver and he’s a roadie, I presume you’re his boss.” Waring nodded his head. He thought for a moment and turned a shade paler. “I suppose you need someone to identify him.”
“We do, I’m afraid.”
Jack Waring hesitated a moment before nodding reluctantly.
“Thank you,” said Angela. “Once we’ve established that it’s him we’ll need to know about his family.”
“He’s got someone, I think. They live in south London – Peckham, I believe. I know there’s a sister, at least.”
“OK,” Angela nodded at Rick. “Go with the sergeant, here, and do the ID, and then will you give him the contact details of the family?”
“They’re on my laptop in Bren’s dressing room. Is it all right to go there?”
“I would think so, it’s not part of the crime scene.”
“Right,” replied Waring. He moved smoothly through the stage equipment in the manner of one completely familiar with where everything is. Rick followed in his wake and they disappeared out of sight.
“Right, we’ll need to talk to Don Buckley first, I think, Gary. Can you go and get him, please?”
Once Gary had gone, Angela smiled at Doug Travers, who had finished his call and joined her again.
“All sorted,” he said. “There’s a room near the ticket office. The front-of-house manager will show your officers where it is. Together with these dressing rooms back here, you’re sorted.”
“Thank you. Maybe we can get through the preliminaries fairly quickly, then. Right, Rick and Jim, we can take a room each. I’d like you to speak to Jack and Doug here, I’ll take that girl from the front row and the support act manager – Gary’s already gone for Don Buckley – the one who was looking after the singer.”
“Sure thing, Angie,” said Rick as he and Jim moved back towards the pass door. “We’ll see to the others, as well.”
“Thanks. Oh – I want to take Mr Angry.”
Jim turned and looked quizzically at her. “Man in a black T-shirt sitting with some others in sparkly waistcoats,” she explained. “He’s a bit mouthy.”
Jim gave her a thumbs-up as he disappeared out of sight.
Five minutes later, Rick texted her to confirm the doctor had pronounced life extinct and the dead man was, indeed, Oliver Joplin, and she was settling into one of the larger dressing rooms. She didn’t bother to turn on the lights surrounding the huge mirror above the counter along one wall, contenting herself with the central light hanging from the ceiling. She and Gary shifted a jumble of stage make-up and sequinned masks from a table by the wall onto the counter, positioning the table under the light for interviewing. They took four of the five chairs ranged to face the mirror, and set them two either side of the table.
“OK, we’re ready,” she said, finally. “I don’t suppose there’s a person in this building who doesn’t want to go home to bed right now, so let’s just get started and get through as best we can.” She looked at Gary. “Don Buckley?”
“Outside, waiting to be called in.”
Don Buckley stood about five feet ten, slim, with dark blond hair and a pleasant face.
As Angela welcomed him in and invited him to take a seat across the table from herself and Gary, she noted that he seemed quite composed and alert. Perhaps he was a nighttime person, she surmised. She wasn’t.
“Well,” she began. “This isn’t how you thought the evening would end, is it?”
“You’ve got that right. We’re all knocked sideways.”
“How did Oliver get on with the rest of you?”
“Um, I don’t know that I can answer that, really.”
“But you all worked together backstage, didn’t you?” Angela thought back to the evening when Madeleine had first talked about going to this concert. She was quite a fan of Brendan Phelan. She remembered – yes, that was it – Maddie had talked about it being the final show of a national tour. “You’ve all been together for some weeks now, haven’t you?” she asked, glad she could dredge up that detail from her memory.
“Yes, we’ve been on tour for some months, but you’ve got to know how it is. We’re the support act, right?”
“Yes, I get it.”
“So, like, we’re really made up about being on tour with these guys; Brendan being who he is, of course; it’s a big opportunity for us but we make sure we mind our p’s and q’s. Don’t get me wrong, we all get on all right and there’s a good vibe backstage. We go to the pub together and all that stuff but, well, Brendan’s crew are Brendan’s crew, and we wouldn’t necessarily know all their business. You know what I mean?”
“I think so; you’re talking about company politics.”
Don hesitated for a fraction of a second. “Yes.”
, thought Angela, as she made a note.
I might need to come back to this point but I’d better stick to the straight and narrow first.
“So what can you tell me about what happened tonight?”
Don shrugged. “Not a lot. I was with my group, Foursquare, in our room, just chilling after the show, when I heard a shot. Our room is near the back of the theatre. It made me jump but none of them seemed to be bothered. I said, ‘Did anybody hear that shot?’ and Luke, one of the band, said he’d stopped noticing gunshots.”
“He said what?”
“Well, you know – actually, why should you know? Brendan uses guns in the show, and whips. Not my thing, really, but I have to admit they’re very effective.”
Angela turned to Gary with an enquiring glance. He nodded. “That’s right. I wouldn’t have expected it to work, but it does.”
“So what happened after you heard the shot?”