Authors: Leslie Leigh
MURDER TUNED IN
Allie Griffin Mysteries, Book 4
L E S L I E L E I G H
Copyright © 2015
All Rights Reserved
. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
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Allie Griffin turned on the news and saw a picture of herself.
"Oh God," she said to her cat, Dinah.
The cat had nothing to offer in response.
"Dinah!" she said. The cat's ears turned like a satellite dish toward the sound. "Dinah!" she said again, and the cat lifted its weary head, one bleary eye barely open, and then dropped its head down again as if a string holding it up had been cut.
With her eyes toward the television, she blindly unpacked her groceries onto the countertop. "
omeone blabbed about the Crawford House case, Dinah. What are we going to do, Dinah?"
... can be thankful that another murder has been solved, thanks to the astute detection of this real-life Jane Marple. Amy Chong, Channel Six News, in Shelburne. Back to you, Ron."
Her phone buzzed to life.
She picked up. "Allie Griffin, P.I.—particularly irritated—how can I solve your case today?"
"Nice," said Del Collins.
"If you're really my best friend, you'll call Channel Six and tell them to stop polluting the airwaves with that tripe. And stop comparing me to Miss Marple! I'm not some old biddy in a knit shawl!"
"Oh, come on. It's good publicity."
"For what? For every nut who's misplaced the TV remote to call me up at three in the morning to help him find it? No thank you."
"Well, why not make it work for you? Become a private eye."
"Oh ho ho, no, thank you again."
"Well, just so you know, it wasn't me who ratted you out. Just in case you were wondering."
"I was wondering."
"Well," said Del, "I am calling with some good news. Did you hear about Ben Sokol?"
"Yours truly is going to produce his new musical."
"Get out. I didn’t even know he was writing a musical."
"Neither did I, but he did, and I am."
"Thank you. Auditions start next week. Should be interesting." Del's voice had a strange lilt to it.
"Hey, sweetheart?" Allie said cautiously.
"Yeah?" her friend said suspiciously.
"You should be ok with yourself."
There was a moment or two of silence. "Um, ok?"
"I'm serious. You're not fat."
Another moment. "Ok."
"I'm just saying."
"Yeah. How did you know I was thinking that?"
"I could tell by your voice."
"No, you couldn't possibly."
"No, I'm serious. When you're dieting, you starve yourself. And then you get edgy and your voice does this thing where it sort of gets tight and then goes up at the end of sentences. You have good news about the show. Musical theater is your livelihood. So there's no other reason for you to be edgy that way. Plus, when you were talking, I heard a tear of aluminum foil. That means you're packing a homemade lunch for yourself, which you never do unless you're dieting. And I know you well enough to know that when you
dieting, you think about your weight constantly, and it's never good. So I said, 'You should be ok with yourself,' and I stand by that. Don’t cave in to societal norms."
"Ok, I think you're planet might be trying to call you, so I'm going to get off the phone now."
"Tell me again why you shouldn’t be a private eye?"
"Because I don’t want to be one. Happy?"
"Whatever. Call you later."
This talent for employing deductive logic wasn't new, but it was only recently that Allie had begun displaying it openly. In high school and college, she found she possessed the ability but was always afraid to speak up, lest her fellow students think her some sort of freak, like a witch. Only recently, too, was her examination of the actual process. Details tended to pass through her brain and imprint themselves indelibly on a subconscious level. Every so often, one detail would come to the forefront and shine like a flashlight in the dark and she'd fix on it. She did this whenever she came across even the tiniest question without an answer. She still wasn't entirely sure that she wasn't some sort of freak.
If she dismissed the idea of becoming a private eye, then what about the down times?
She couldn’t deal with the time-stretching boredom that came when she wasn't working on a case. It was unbearable. She wanted a puzzle, a riddle, a mystery, anything to stave off the boredom. How she'd lived without a case to solve all these years was beyond her comprehension now. She suddenly came to the sick realization that, somewhere in the horror of that very first murder, Allie Griffin had been reborn.
Private eye, eh?
No. What would she do? Sit in a dank, messy office in front of a busted fan, waiting for some desperate character to come rushing in, turn out the lights, pull apart the shades and throw a paranoid stare down to the empty street below?
You have to help me. I have nowhere else to turn...
She shook off the fantasy like a load of confetti and went about putting away the groceries like the domestic goddess she was.
The Verdenier Opera House was built in 1935 by a millionaire and patron of the arts with the unfortunate name of Oswald Grimpledorff. Grimpledorff felt that his hometown of Verdenier lacked class. The problem was not so much that Verdenier lacked class. It had plenty of class. It just lacked opera fans.
So as soon as the House went up, portions of it were optioned off to various parties. The Verdenier Chamber of Commerce was one. The Verdenier Probate Court was another. Locals still called it the Verdenier Opera House, although that was not its official name. Its official name was the Oswald Grimpledorff House of Fine Theater. It was called the Verdenier Opera House for a brief time in the 1940s when the theater section of the building was actually used for operas. Now it was used for community stage shows and various events, with the rest of the non-theatrical parts of the building housing the aforementioned official entities.
However, Oswald Grimpledorff was indeed a fine patron of the arts, and saw to it that the theater that bore his name would be outfitted with every bit of theatrical trappings one could scrounge up. It was a beautiful theater. And aside from the bustling of officious folks running between sections of the building with folders in their hands, and the crowds of eager voters cramming into machines on election days, this was a perfectly respectable place to put on a show.
And here is where Allie sat now, watching auditions.
Sitting in on a series of musical auditions brings a special kind of pain that can only be alleviated by the notion that one is doing this for a friend. That friend was Del Collins. She'd told Allie she needed someone to share her misery. Besides, she’d said, you'll get a kick out of it. Sitting in the audience of a truly bad performer is a treat of a different sort; the mind can’t comprehend what it's experiencing. The combination of awkward shuffling on the part of the spectator and the glass-cutting screeches of the performer, taken in conjunction with a healthy dose of
—delighting in the misery of others—is a balm for the soul when all else is gloomy.
Del was right.
They were putting on a performance of a new show, the score to which had been composed by her friend, Ben, the lawyer-turned-composer. It was a musical based on the life of Marie Curie. The title:
Allie sat in the fourth row, beside her best friend Del, who was the producer. Three rows ahead of them sat Angus MacFetridge, the director.
A word about Angus MacFetridge.
Here was a man, in Allie's summation, who had never experienced anything more traumatizing in his youth than a Sunday chore mowing a suburban lawn; and nothing more traumatizing in his adulthood than a lead actress with a case of laryngitis. It was the tilt of his head and the stone cut of his jaw, unmoving, and the stone-color of his eyes, unblinking, together with the stone cold way he spoke without inflection that gave the impression of a man unjustifiably cynical about life and the world around him.
"Ghastly!" The director bellowed through cupped hands. "Go home and stop gargling with Drano!"
"He seems like a nice fellow," Allie whispered to Del.
Del looked at her, closed her eyes and shook her head. "Hitler after an intervention."
Allie put her hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh. "What is
supposed to mean?"
"I'm not sure. But it sounds about right. I mean, this is community theater. Get over yourself. This is Verdenier, not Broadway."
"Takes his job seriously, does he?"
"We all do. He's a pathological case."
Allie leaned over. "And whom do we have here?"
She was referring to a blonde that had sashayed in and dropped like a feather into the seat on Angus's left.
"Ah yes," Del said with a lilt. "That would be Miss Sally Kane. She's our lead."
"You know they're having an affair?"
"What? Her and Angus?"
"I wouldn’t be surprised. There's no other way she could have gotten that role. She's terrible."
"Well, they're definitely having an affair. Only she's not happy with it."
"Wha— I don’t get it."
"She greeted him with a smile, but it was phony. We smile with our eyes. This one, you'd think there was a guy pulling invisible strings on the sides of her mouth. Also, there was no newness to the greeting. She said hello to him as if she’d just seen him a little while ago. She just handed him something. I can’t tell from here, but it looks like something small—reading glasses, a set of keys—something you'd leave behind in someone's house. He took it without looking at her, as if he doesn't want anyone to notice the transaction. Now, look at how he's leaning on his left side. He wants to be closer to her. She's also leaning on her left, like she's pulling away. If the gesture was just one to hide the fact that they're having an affair, then why sit down right next to him? She chose that seat to placate him."
"I love having you around. Well, they certainly deserve each other."
"How do you mean?"
"God's gift to theater. Actors, especially hungry ones, need to retain some humility if they're going to be good emoters who understand people. This one’s got red carpets in her eyes."
"Did you let Angus know this?"
"Sort of. I expressed my objections. Only now, I'll be lucky if he accepts any of my input on account of the fact that I dissed his main squeeze."
"No one is supposed to know that. It wasn't your fault."
"Whatever," said Del. "He's the director of this little troupe. He makes the final casting decisions."
"Disgusting! God!" The voice belonged to Angus. Followed by a trickle of giddy laughter from Sally Kane at his side.
"There's another dream dashed to the rocks," Del whispered, as the two watched the dejected singer take the long walk off the stage.
"Am I interrupting anything?" said Ben Sokol. He'd snuck in and sat down behind the women.
"How long have you been there?" said Allie.
"Long enough. An affair? Scandalous."
Ben Sokol had been a trial lawyer specializing in cases regarding civil rights. He'd also been a frustrated composer all his life. One day in the middle of a trial, he excused himself, went to the men's room, jotted down a few notes of a symphony on a small pad of music manuscript paper he always kept on him, and then broke down sobbing.
The next day he began the machinery that would move him out of law forever, and keep him wondering about his next meal for about the same duration. But Ben loved being the archetypal starving artist. Besides, the payout he received from leaving the firm, coupled with two or three investments that allowed a steady drip of cash into his shallow pockets every month, kept him just hungry enough to crave artistic recognition, but not so hungry that he was willing to sell his soul. Ben was perhaps the happiest, most serenely placid person Allie had ever known in her life. He would have made for a great husband. She could work around his being gay, she thought.
"Ground control to Allie Griffin," said Del.
Allie snapped out of her reverie. "Huh?"
Ben had a chuckle at her expense, which made her flush. "What's it like inside that wonderful head of yours?" he said.
"Crowded. What did you ask me again?"
"I wanted to know if you're available to talk after the auditions. I've got a problem for you. Well, not me. It's Tad, our choreographer. I don’t know what it is, but he says it's a bit involved. Sounds like it's got Allie Griffin written all over it."
"Great," Allie said sarcastically.
"Relax," said Ben. "You'll like him.