This is literally just a sliver from Chapter One. I'm in the middle of Chapter Seven now. If you like this, and want to see more, just let me know in the usual manner. Hope you dig this little peek. -Mark
Joe walked off, leaving me and his curiosity to stare at the stage and wonder what they were doing over there. When Joe didn’t immediately return, I looked around until I found the scaffolding that led up to the rafters. I shouldered my duffel and nonchalantly walked over to the metal rungs, then scaled them quickly and disappeared from under the bright lights.
Up above, on the narrow boards that ran parallel to the banks of lights, I felt a lot more comfortable. I was doing something physical. That always made more sense to me. All of the ropes, pulleys, and flats could be operated from the small platform anchored to the wall underneath the scaffolding. Two catwalks ran across the stage, out of the view of the cameras, and allowed various creatures to fly and other special effects to be performed. On the opposite side of the stage, several thick ropes had been decorated with wire, leaves, and paint to resemble jungle vines. These were anchored overhead to a second set of beams, and counterbalanced with sandbags. Stuntmen could swing onto the soundstage and land precisely on their mark. Down below, it was easy to see the rows of fake plants and trees held in place with two-by-fours, terracotta pots, and piles of sand.
I shifted my duffel bag to my back and carefully walked onto the closest catwalk, using the railing for support, until I had an unobstructed view of the crime scene below. I leaned down cautiously to get an unobstructed look.
Ernie Fleischman was flat on his back. Mouth open, staring up at me, a panicked look in his eyes, which were still ringed with black greasepaint. It took me a minute to see the cause of his death: a knife, one of the props, from the look of it, was buried to the hilt under his ribcage. His body was surrounded by a chalk outline, and other things were circled in chalk that I couldn’t quite make out.
The cop that had been arguing with McAuley now appeared and said to the photographer, “How do you figure it?”
The photographer wore a similar brown suit and jacket as the cop. He put his camera down and said, “Okay, here’s what I think.” He walked stage right about six feet and pointed to the open trap door in the middle of the stage. “The killer waited until he heard the deceased coming, then jumped out...” here he pointed, to the raised platform below the trap door, “from here, and stabbed him. You can see from the angle that the handle is pointing down, the blade turning up into the ribcage.” The cop stood up and pointed stage left. “Then he ran off that way, down the stairs. There’s a service entrance that leads out back.”
“Any ideas as to who could have done it?” asked the plainclothes cop.
“Well, whoever he was, he was strong as an ox.”
“Athletic, too. He’d have to spring up from the platform, there, and drive it home in one motion.”
“Jesus Christ, it’s hot.” said the plainclothes cop. He took his hat off and mopped his brow, rolled his head back, and his eyes met mine. “Hey! Get down from there!”
I stood up hurriedly, walked to the opposite end of the catwalk, and slid down the ladder in one fluid motion. I was met by the two cops.
“Who are you?” the plainclothes cop asked.
“Clayton Stark,” I said.
“Phony name,” said the photographer. “These guys don’t have real names. What’s your real name, buddy?”
“Creighton Starsky,” I said.
“Let me see some ID,” Plainclothes snapped.
I handed over my driver’s license as the Photographer asked, “Did you know the deceased?”
“Yes,” I said. “I mean, no...I mean...”
“Jesus Christ, make up your mind,” said Plainclothes. “Did you know him or not?”
“I met him once, at a party. I knew who he was, but I didn’t...” I stopped when I realized what I was about to say.
Plainclothes smiled. “Well, who said you did, Starsky?”
“No one,” I said.
Photographer was suddenly all smiles, too. “What were you doing up there, Starsky?”
“Nothing. Just looking around.”
“You working on this picture?” Plainclothes asked.
“What are you doing?” Photographer asked.
“I’m playing the gorilla,” I said.
The cops smile now looked like a shark’s mouth. “Did you know that the deceased, Mr. Fleischman, was playing the gorilla in this movie?” Plainclothes said.
“Before he died,” said Photographer.
“Yeah, but now that he’s dead, Clayton here’s got a job,” said Plainclothes.
“Ain’t that swell?” said Photographer.
“It’s convenient,” said Plainclothes.
“Like a coincidence,” said Photographer.
Joe suddenly appeared at my side. “Hey, Clay, what’s going on?”
“Your friend here was up in the rafters, gawking at us,” said Plainclothes, “After I specifically asked you circus types to stay back and let us work the crime scene.”
“We were just asking the snoop here a few questions,” said Photographer, “And we’ll probably be asking him some more.”
“Real soon,” said Plainclothes.
Joe drew himself up. He was legitimately tall, not just Hollywood tall. It had the desired effect. “Don’t get tough with me, buddy. I get hit for a living. You got any questions, you go through the front office like the rest of the fans. Come on, Clay.” He pulled me away from the two cops.
“Hey Starsky, you got an alibi for last night?” Plainclothes yelled.
“Let him go,” said Photographer. “He’s a simpleton.”
After we had walked half the length of the studio floor, Joe hissed, “What the hell were you doing up there?”
I just shrugged. I wanted to tell Joe that I wanted to see Ernie’s dead body, just to know that he was truly gone, but I knew how it would sound, so I kept my mouth shut.