It’s a Mystery

 

town-signI hate classical music, so fortunately for me the concert was cut short halfway through the William Tell Overture—sadly, so was the conductor’s life.

I hurried toward the stage and flashed my badge. “Detective Ryan Harding. Everyone please remain calm and be seated.” Maybe ten people sat back down. Of the rest, half never paused as they fled the hall. The others, all band parents, stampeded to remove their kids.

I called the station. “It’s Harding. I need an ambulance and backup at the high school auditorium.”

Marcus Cooper had no pulse. The cause of death was pretty clear. An arrow was firmly planted in his forehead.

“Scratch the ambulance. Send the M.E. instead, please.”

By the time I ran backstage the shooter had vanished.

On stage few minutes later, I completely failed to corral the kids of the orchestra. One clarinetist’s sweaty, hulking mother threatened to break my face if I didn’t get out of her way. As she dragged off her wailing daughter, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I ducked, assuming another parental assault was coming from behind. I was wrong.

Quinnie Swope had short-cropped sable hair, bright brown eyes, a taste for Mozart and Rossini, and, unaccountably, for me. I’d asked her out to dinner. She’d invited me to the concert.

“You’d rather do this than listen to the recital, wouldn’t you?”

“Um, I need to—”

“Don’t worry. I’ll catch a ride home with the Turners. Call me tomorrow?”

“Sure thing. I’m sorry.”

She nodded toward the body. “I’m sorry for Marcus’ wife.”

“Yeah. I’ll go see her as soon as things are under control here.”

We found a worn hunting bow backstage. An apple sat nearby with another arrow in it.

The medical examiner was new. She walked toward me as her assistant started taking pictures. “Detective Harding? I’m Doctor Anna Park. I don’t believe we’ve met.” Her straight black, jaw-length hair framed Asian features.

I shook her hand. “Welcome to Harmony, Doctor.”

She sighed. “Not very harmonious tonight, I see. What do we know?”

As far as I can tell, Mr. Cooper was shot from stage-left, during the William Tell Overture. That arrow, along with a second one stuck in an apple backstage, makes me think the shooter was familiar with tonight’s program.

After an hour of tagging and bagging evidence, I sent the school’s security camera tapes to the station and left for Cooper’s home—which happened to be the house I’d grown up in. I got out of the car and walked to the door. No one answered my knock.

Around to the side, Dad’s tree was dying. It wasn’t actually his tree any more. He’d sold the place to the Coopers and moved to Costa Rica ten years earlier. Didn’t matter. He’d planted it the day I was born, and it had always been a scraggly embarrassment to his garden club. Something scrabbled through its fallen leaves into the darkness beyond. Probably a squirrel. A big one.

I crept into the back yard.

Lights blazed as I rounded the patio. “Dratted motion detector.” It’d only ever worked when it wanted to. Tonight it was in the mood. A startled frog leapt from the diving board into the weeds.

Something disturbed the smooth surface of the pool. I stepped closer for a better look.  Helen Cooper had never looked good in red.

I dialed 9-1-1. Low battery. Exactly the two words I didn’t want to see right now. Obligingly, they disappeared and the phone died in my hand.

A loud crack sounded behind me and a bullet hit the fence.

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About ralph

Still running on steam power
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