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Horror Set Death

I never understood why they called it a green room. A spider plant stood in one corner, that was it for green. Sprawled in the middle of the brown carpet lay Frank, the dead director of Island Zombies in Paradise. The faint smell of urine hung in the humid island heat. A ceiling fan slowly beat overhead as I bent to examine the body. The aroma of bacon and pancakes from the food service truck floated in through the open window. My stomach grumbled.

“So, the door was locked from the inside?” I asked Spencer, trying to be calm for both of us because his panic button had been pushed.

“I told you already!” He spat. “What am I gonna do about this shoot. This is costing thousands of dollars per day. I need to keep this under wraps.”

“You climbed in through the window and opened the door, right?”

“Yes, I climbed in through the door and opened…no, I used the window and opened the latch on the door.”

“Okay, relax.” I said. “Then what?”

“I called you. You are handling security on my set, right?” He said.

“Not to your satisfaction I’m sure.”

“Dead directors don’t make me feel secure, Mr. Montague. More importantly, they don’t make my investors feel secure.”

“I’m not on set overnight unless we’re shooting. Why are you here so early?” I asked.

“I always come to set an hour or two before call to make sure no one wrecked the place. It’s my butt on the line with this project you know?” He pointed at his loafers. “The buck stops here.”

“What time did you arrive?” I asked, still calm.

“About six this morning, but I didn’t find him until almost seven. He’s usually here at the same time.”

“Did you touch anything?”

“What am I, stupid? I’ve seen CSI.”

“I’ll take that as a no. Did you see anyone else on set when you came in?”

“No, it was quiet as death,” he said.

“Okay, give me five minutes, then call the police.” I said.

Spencer began hyperventilating. I grabbed his lapel. His eyes locked on mine. “Breathe,” I said. “In through your nose, out through your mouth. I’ll count to ten while you do it.” I kept my focus on him and counted out loud. When I was through, he slumped.

“You good?” I said. He nodded. “Call the police in five minutes. Call from outside.” He started out the door. “Shut the door. Don’t let any of the cast or crew in here again today.” He looked through me then closed the door as he went out.

I slid on latex gloves. I found nothing of obvious significance on or about Frank’s body. The murder weapon, a knife that appeared to have the stabbing pattern of a kitchen knife, was gone. He had been stabbed at least three times, probably because the killer hadn’t been a killer before today. It might also have been because they couldn’t find his tiny heart easily. An orange colored ipod with earbuds sat in a corner. It contained songs by Linkin Park and other alt-rock bands. Nothing telling. It probably belonged to one of the actors. I gave the place one more sweep, taking the ipod with me as I too got out and shut the door. The police arrived minutes later and went in to do their job. I started questioning the players.

I asked Spencer one more question. I needed to know when he last saw Frank.

“About midnight,” came the clipped reply. “I gotta call L.A. and give them the latest.”

He walked off, cell phone perched by his ear, so I moved on to the second-unit director. Martin’s mustache twitched as I approached. “Is it true?” The most common question you hear on a murder investigation the first day.

“Yes,” I said. “Where were you after we wrapped last night?”

“I went back to the villa.”

“Anyone with you?”

“Nope. Went over the schedule for tomorrow, drank a shot of vodka, and dozed off. The vodka helps me sleep,” he said.

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Forty-two. Why? Does my age make me a suspect?”

“We’re all suspects, don’t kid yourself. Wait till the police start in with you. Too bad you don’t have someone to back your alibi. Don’t most of the crew share quarters?” I asked.

“Yes, but I was given my own villa because they needed to appease me.”

“For what?”

“I was supposed to direct this mess, but when Frank decided he needed the dough, he came out of retirement,” he said showing nothing on his face.

“Why are you still second-unit directing at forty-two?”

“Hollywood takes her time kissing frogs, heck, sometimes doing more than that, before trying a prince.” I said nothing. He continued after a moment. “Look, I’m not looking to bad-mouth anyone. Frank came out of retirement for the money. He was strapped because of trouble with the IRS, or something, I heard.” He trailed off.

“Where would you hear that?”

“The on-set rumor mill, where else? Have you spent time on movie sets before?”

“Some. I wonder what they’ll do about finishing this project now?” I said casually.

“Dunno, maybe it’ll be scrapped,” he said. “It’s a shame. I had some big ideas for this script. I thought it could be more than just another zombie picture.”

“But since you aren’t directing, that’s exactly what it would have been, huh?” I said.

“It’s just not the direction I would have gone with the script. They wanted Frank. He has a name. Who am I?” He sounded matter-of-fact about his place, but not like he thought it was right.

“I hope you get a shot. Sounds like you have a passion for it,” I said. “I’m going to interview some of the other cast and crew. You better just hang.”

“I’ll be in my trailer.” He walked off toward the bathroom.

I thought about who I should approach next, when a knockout of a production assistant bopped up. “Hey, you are the security guy, right?”

“Yes, I’m Boise.” I waited a moment then said, “What’s your name?”

She giggled. “Sorry! I’m Daisy. I’m one of the PA’s. I mostly help with second-unit crew. This island is dreamy, but is it true what I heard about Frankie?”

“What did you hear?” I asked coyly. I couldn’t imagine anyone calling Frank, “Frankie” to his face.

“I heard that he was,” she slid a finger across her throat.

“Where’d you hear that?”

“News travels faster than light around a movie set, Mr. Boise.”

“Just Boise is fine, Daisy. Did you hear anything else?”

“Well, not really. He wasn’t the nicest director I’ve worked under. I’m so grateful to be working on movies. I originally wanted to act, but that was a pipe dream that I gave up when I was younger. I got tired of being a mattress, so I decided behind the scenes I could at least stay involved.”

“Don’t call yourself that.”

“Oh, it’s fine, it just means model, actress, waitress. Mattress. Get it? Anyway, I love this work, but Frankie, he did not seem to love it. In fact, he seemed downright angry to be on this movie. Was it gruesome?” She asked with interest.

“Gruesome? Daisy, are you sure you aren’t enjoying this too much?” I said as thoughts of her ponytails flopping as she plunged the knife in and out of Frank’s chest danced in my head.

“Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m sad to see anyone croak, but you have to admit, it’s exciting being at the scene and being a suspect and all. It’s like ‘Murder She Wrote’ or being Colonel Mustard in Clue. Was it a candlestick or the lead pipe?”

I found myself laughing in spite of the dire circumstances. A woman with a sense of humor, who seemed like a ditz at first was turning out to be charming and sexy. I fought the urge to keep talking to her.

“Daisy, thanks for seeing the bright side of this. Listen, I need to keep questioning…”

She interrupted me, “…the suspects, right?” I nodded. “So I’m a suspect?” I nodded again. “Awesome! Wait till I tell Lizzie!”

“Who’s Lizzie?”

“My mom, we’re on a first name basis. She reads mystery novels like a teenager plays video games. Sorry, you have other suspects to interview and I have work to do.”

“What work? Production is halted for the investigation. Besides, there’s no director,” I said.

“The show must go on,” was all she said as she walked off.

“Wait,” I said. She stopped. “Where were you last night between midnight and six am?”

She walked back. “Oooh, I really am a suspect.” She put her index finger to her lips. “Well, I got back to my room at eleven-thirty. I showered. The humidity here is extreme, so I shower as much as possible. I turned on the ceiling fan. Checked my call time and got in bed. I woke up around five-thirty when Sandy came in, then went back to sleep for one hour.”

“You’re rooming with Sandy, the make up artist?” She

nodded. “Where was she?” “She’s been seeing the director of photography. There’s something on movie sets about DP’s and makeup girls, they always hook up.”

“So this is a regular thing for her?”

“For the last two weeks, yeah,” she said.

“Did you make any phone calls or see anyone during that time?”

“Nope.” Then she realized my problem. “Oh, I really am suspicious!”

“You don’t have…”

“An alibi,” she finished.

The show did indeed go on, as the police put “keep out” tape across the door to the green room and proceeded to question each member of the crew and cast over the next days. I continued my own investigation. Spencer called the production company and investors back in Los Angeles and got the go ahead to continue shooting. They would budget one extra day for the shoot, then it would wrap pretty much on schedule unless the dailies were miserable. Martin took over as director. I wasn’t fired, but they did hire an extra security man to keep an eye on things, since I spent a lot of time trying to figure out if they were still employing a killer.

Daisy ate lunch with me over the next week and wanted to know how everything was going. “Did I do it?” She asked playfully.

“The killer does often try to snuggle up to the investigator in these scenarios, “ I joked.

“If I work hard, maybe I could be the prime suspect!”

“Daisy!” A voice yelled from behind a bush. “Daisy!”

“Oh, that’s Martin yelling for me. I gotta go.”

“Do you want to play Clue tonight?” I asked.

“Clue? Like a board gaming date?”

“No, not a date, just board gaming at my place.” My hands were shaking under the table.

“Too bad, I’d rather call it a date,” Daisy said. As she took off she yelled back, “I’ll follow you there when we wrap for the night!”

“Great,” I said quietly. This would be my first foray into dating land since Evelyn had passed away two years before. I felt like a betrayer. “Get over it,” I muttered. The wedding ring burned on my finger. Did Daisy not care that I wore a wedding band? Did it matter? It was time I got off my butt and had dinner and a board game with a woman who I connected with, even if she lived four thousand miles away. A guy had to start somewhere. The sun started to set at six and Spencer sauntered over, intense and chagrined as ever. He wanted to know where I was with the investigation.

“The family and my investors want answers. The police have bupcus,” he said.

“Do they at least have a time of death?” I asked.

“Yeah, they said he died between three and four-fifteen,” Spencer replied. “Why? What have you got?”

“I’m making head-way, but nothing I can move on yet. I’ve spoken to all the cast and crew. A handful, including Martin, yourself, Daisy, Heather, and Ocean don’t have alibis. The others all checked out. Half of them were sleeping or drinking together. Don’t you Hollywood types ever rest?”

“Yes, when we get back to Hollywood we do nothing but go to the gym and lounge around at Burke Williams, but not during a shoot. Besides, most of the cast and crew, outside of the main ones or the prima donnas, are two to a room to keep the budget intact. Not everything in Hollywood revolves around sex. We have three weeks left down here to get the rest of these shots. Just make sure there are no more stabbings and find me a killer, unless the killer is part of principle photography, then wait until we finish principle photography,” he said and started to walk away.

“What are you telling me?” He turned back and stared at me nonplussed.

“We are over budget, ba-by, so we cannot afford any delays for the rest of this fiasco. We need to finish principle photography and put this boat into port before you haul any of my actors or primary crewmembers off to court. Does that clarify? Remember, rookie, ‘the show…’”

“Yeah, I know the saying. I’m not backing off a material witness to satisfy your timetable. If I find a killer, he’s going down. I take it personally when someone gets whacked on my watch, even if no one liked Frank much. How is Martin doing as the director?” I asked.

“He is making a much better mid-budget horror film than his recently deceased predecessor. He also works for half the salary,” Spencer said with a smile. “I gotta get back to work. Find a killer, then watch him till we wrap.”

That night, we finished at eight and Daisy true to her word waited by my car.

“Can I just ride with you? I hate this driving on the left stuff,” she said.

“Sure, hop in.”

We got back to the guesthouse in ten minutes.

“Is this house all yours! It’s gynormous,” she said.

“No, house is owned by a couple ladies. It’s a guesthouse, but I live here in one of the rooms. I don’t like washing my sheets.”

“Sounds like a swell plan, man.”

We walked past the bar and up to my room. I opened my cabinet of board games and pulled out Clue.

“You want some wine?” I asked.

“Beer, please,” she smiled as she said it.

“A lady who drinks beer. Okay, I’ll be right back.”

I went to the bar, and brought back two beers with glasses. She set the glass aside, clinked my bottle and drank. “Ah, nice and cold! Here’s to mysteries,” she said. “What is this stuff? There’s no label.”

“One of the owners, Marge, brews it herself. Good?” “Damn good.” She took another swig. “Am I still a suspect?” She was taking the murder weapons out of the box now.

“Yes, but not the prime suspect, yet,” I said with a dour look on my face.

“Oh, pooh. Well, a girl can dream. Who else is a suspect?”

I considered my next move carefully. I wanted to trust this girl, but what she had joked about bothered me. Wanting to be the prime suspect in a real murder was at least slightly disconcerting. Jokes always contained a grain of truth and ignoring them could get you in a lot of trouble in my business. I shrugged it off and barreled ahead, rationalizing that I had to trust someone on set if I was going to finish this case in two weeks. People were guarded when they talked to me. Daisy could be my set snitch.

“There are five people without an alibi.”

“You mean who work on the movie?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Couldn’t it be someone unrelated to the project? Doesn’t that happen? Some gang-banger or drug-addict from off the street?” She said.

I shook my head, “Of course that’s always possible, but I’m going with probability. Motive ranks at the top of the list.”

“Nuts, I forgot, Clue requires three players,” Daisy said, looking at the cover art.

“That’s okay, we can pretend there’s a third player. We can also just play Monopoly, unless you’re feeling adventurous,” I said.

“What does that mean?”

“I’m a bit of a board game geek.” I opened my cabinet again and waved my hand in front of it. “Behold, every German Game of the Year Winner since 1996.”

She whistled. “Nice. Alhambra, Settlers of Caatan? I’ve never even heard of most of these.”

“They’re all great, but let’s stick with Clue, that way we don’t have to concentrate too much and we can talk.”

She smiled at that and took a sip of beer.

“As I was saying, there are five suspects, including you.” I explained who the others were. “Now, give me the case for each.”

“You want me to tell you why Martin would kill Frankie? Jeez, how about career advancement?”

“Okay, that was my thought too, but do you get the feeling there’s more to it than that?”

“Like what?”

“Martin has passion and has toiled for years in obscurity. Frank wanted nothing but a paycheck. He’s set, but because he’s bad with the millions he made before he hit forty, he’s back for more. If I were Martin, I’d be unhappy with that arrangement.”

“Martin was mad about that, yeah. He’d always second-guess Frank’s shots and say that he was missing the emotional moment because he’d rather focus on blood and guts. Martin likes the actors not the effects,” she said.

“See, that’s exactly the kind of stuff I need to know. What about Spencer?” I said.

“Spence? Hmmm.” She squirmed a little. “I feel a little weird telling you why co-workers of mine would kill someone.”

“I understand it’s awkward, but I really need your help. Do you think someone who killed Frank should get away with it?”

She hesitated slightly, then said, “No, of course not.” She took a breath then continued, “Spence worries about money and Frank wasn’t cheap. Martin’s a much better deal. He is high-strung enough, but has no balls to stab anyone. Besides, staying on schedule’s way too important to Spence to risk getting the police involved,” she said, getting into it now. “Who else?”

“How’d you know Frank was stabbed?” I said.

“Again, movie set gossip mill,” she replied.

“No, I need to know who told you.”

“I think it was Spence,” she said.

“Okay. What about Ocean?” I asked.

“Ocean Connor? He has no alibi? I thought he and Heather were shacked up?”

“Not that night. Ocean said he was so exhausted from all the running in that soft sand when the monster-zombie thing was after him that night that he just crashed in his trailer after rinsing all the corn syrup off. I guess Heather had gone back to her bungalow two hours earlier because she had a five am wake up call,” I said. “She doesn’t have an alibi either.”

Daisy shrugged. “This is giving me a headache. Could you take me back to my car? I get migraines after long days and I need to get back and take my medication. Sorry,” she pouted playfully. “We never even got to play.”

I took her back and gave her a hug goodnight. I decided to walk to the green room and see if something there would jog my deductive reasoning. I heard sobbing in the main stage area. Heather sat alone, crying. “Heather?” I said.

“Oh my god! Boise, you startled me. What are you doing here?” Heather said, wiping her eyes.

“I just brought Daisy back to her car. Why are you still here?” I asked.

“I was going to talk to you tomorrow. I have a confession to make,” she said. I waited. “The ipod you were asking everyone about belongs to me.”

“That’s your ipod?”

“Yes. I also should have had an alibi, but don’t.”

All pretense of concern left my voice instantly, “What the hell are you talking about?”

“I was with Frank last night. He would have been my alibi, except he’s dead.” She broke into fresh tears. I handed her my handkerchief. She dabbed at her eyes with it.

“Did you kill him?” I said.

“No! We were,” she waved her hands around, “you know right in the green room. Jesus, Boise, you are sick.” “I’m sick? What happened to Ocean and you?” I said. She looked at me like I was an idiot. “Ocean said our time was done. He said that our characters weren’t steamy on screen anymore because we were involved in real life. Something about the heat being gone once we consummated our lust. We should have waited until the shoot was over, but since we didn’t, breaking up would have to do.”

“Were you pissed?”

“Damn right I was pissed. Look at me! You think I get dumped a lot? I’m the dumper, not the dumpee. I slept with Frank to get back at Ocean. I felt terrible afterward and left, even forgetting my ipod, which I never do.”

“Let me guess, you didn’t want to admit it was yours because you’d have to explain this to me and you’d become a major suspect, right?” I questioned.

“I was scared to tell you. I thought you’d think I killed the guy.” She paused. “Do you think I killed Frank?”

I sighed, “It doesn’t look good, Heather. What time did you,” I made a circling motion with my hand, “finish with Frank?”

“I remember looking at the car clock when I got in to go back to my room and it said two a.m.”

“Was Ocean at your place when you went back?”

“No, the night before he told me he’d be sleeping in his own villa for the rest of the shoot. I cried, but he couldn’t care less. What a prick. Just because he got some stinking offer to be in the next Oliver Lepus picture, he thinks we’re all beneath him now. I mean, who really wants to do zombie movies, but they pay the bills, right?”

“So that’s it, you forgot your ipod because you were upset about sleeping with the director?”

“Have you looked at that guy? He could be my great-grandfather! He’s not even a nice guy. I slept with him because I knew it would incense Ocean when I told him, but I felt so disgusted afterwards that I decided I wasn’t telling anyone. Anyway, his dying put a crimp in that plan,” Heather said.

“My notes say that you went back to your room early that night around eight. Did you make a special trip back to the set for this rendezvous?”

“Yes, before I left Frank suggested that he and I review my scenes after everyone else went home to be sure that my reactions were spot on because tomorrow morning we were shooting the climax. I said okay, but I knew Frank didn’t care that much about my acting. I knew it was about the couch, not the camera, know what I mean?” She said.

I told Heather to get back to her room. I started mulling over the information I had and realized something lined up too well, problem was, it was going to ruin everyone’s morning, especially mine.

The next morning, I took a jog on the beach, something else I hadn’t done in two years. It’s funny how you can live in paradise, but the rudimentary banalities of living line up the same wherever you are, making it easy to ignore your amenities as time goes by. I debated whether to listen to Spencer and put off fingering the killer for another week and a half, or nail the coward to the cross now as I’d promised. If this movie did well and became a franchise, I could be looking at steady film gigs that paid nicely. I might also meet some nice women with an education, a rare commodity in St. Thomas these days.

After my jog, I got back to the guesthouse to find a woman waiting outside my room. Her soft features stared down the hall with distraught anxiety as I approached.

“Are you Boise Montague?”

“Yes I am, and you are?”

“Yvette Blum. I’m Frank’s daughter,” she replied.

I invited her in after expressing my condolences.

“It’s quite a long trip, Yvette. I assume you live in Los Angeles.”

“Actually, I live in New York. I work in fashion and NYC is the place to be. I also wasn’t close to my father. We hadn’t spoken since mom died. I thought about him frequently over the last year as one of my sons is estranged from my husband and me now. It hurts to have your offspring reject you. I sympathized with my father and was working up the courage to call him or perhaps just show up in L.A., when I heard the terrible news. Death stole my chance to right things with him. Now all I can do is plead with you. I don’t know what else to do for my father. I’d rather have him back, but putting the person who stole our reconciliation in prison or worse will have to suffice. Can you find his murderer?” She continued to stare at me with watering eyes.

She was not a particularly attractive woman, but her sadness made her beautiful. I explained that I had narrowed the list of suspects and believed I had caught a break in the case by analyzing some information I got through my interviews. None of that was admissible in court, so I would have to get a little more evidence, which was more likely now that I knew where to look.

“Could you please let me know the moment you find an answer? If it had been disease, I would have at least gotten a chance to talk to him, but this…this sudden violation…” she broke off.

The sunlight began cascading over downtown as I drove east toward Reichhold Center. I thought about bringing Yvette, but decided that I could do this without causing her more pain. I let her go back to her hotel as I headed over to the set, resolve riding shotgun. I arrived on set at seven and asked Daisy when Ocean, Heather, and Martin would be in.

“Martin and Ocean are having a meeting somewhere off campus. Heather should be here in half-an-hour,” Daisy said. “Why, do you know who did it?”

I ignored her question. “Where are they?”

Daisy got serious. “I don’t know. I think the Greenhouse.”

I sighed. “I need to question those three about some things, then I’ll have the answer. Are you sure Heather’s not with them.”

“Yeah, pretty sure.” She pointed over my shoulder at the parking lot.

Heather’s Rav 4 had just pulled up. I ran for her car. As she got out, I could see that she hadn’t slept, or was already wearing the horror makeup.

“Heather, we have to talk,” I said pulling her aside so no one could see us. “Are you protecting him?”

“Who?” She asked, suddenly looking even more worn out.

“Your boyfriend!” I almost screamed. I looked around then back to her when an answer didn’t come. “Ocean,” I said, growling now.

“I don’t…” she whispered.

“Don’t play games. He’s somewhere with Martin right now. How desperate is he?”

“He’s not going to hurt Martin,” she said with self-assurance.

“Why not? He killed Frank,” I said.

“No, I killed Frank. I made Ocean enraged with jealousy. I caused a crime of passion and now I have to live with it. By punishing Ocean for wanting to put our relationship on hold, I put the knife in his hands. Ocean killed Frank while I ran. He caught us and took the blade right out of the kitchen at the center. He kicked me away and stabbed him over and over, but it was my fault, my selfishness that forced his hand. I couldn’t trust that he’d be with me again after the shoot. I had no idea how much he loved me,” she wept.

Exhaustion swept over me. I whispered one word as I sat down on the pavement, “Love.” I once heard a disc jockey say that love was the undisputed queen of song themes. I think most p.i.’s can attest that love is also the number one motive for murder. I locked Heather in her trailer and told Spencer his investors would be pissed because their lead actor murdered Frank.

“Do you ever want to work on a shoot again?” Spencer said.

“That depends,” I replied coolly.

“Give me one hour to shoot Ocean’s death sequence, then he’s yours.”

“One hour,” I muttered.

“Come on Boise, one hour. A game of pool can last longer.”

“I’ll be watching the whole time. What are you offering in return?”

“I guarantee you work on any movies shot here in the Caribbean, even off-island.” He paused seeing the conflict on my face. “I just need one sequence and we’re done.”

“In one hour I call the cops and this ends. Call Martin and get them back here.”

Spencer knew better than to smile or thank me. He called and got them back on set. I sat behind the cameraman and watched Ocean’s chest get ripped out by a zombie with bulging eyes and stringy hair. Like every scene ever shot, it ran behind schedule, but I didn’t care. I called the cops at the hour mark and Lt. Shibui arrested Ocean on suspicion of murder on my word, which was still good with him.

Daisy came over and hit me in the shoulder with her fist lightly. “Another one bites the dust, huh? How does it feel to solve a killing?”

“Are you jealous we didn’t arrest you?” I shot back.

“Nah, being a suspect was excitement enough for this shoot. Maybe next time. Gotta take baby steps, right?”

“You up for a board game tonight?” I asked.

“Is it a date this time?” She said.

“Okay, it’s a date.” I said smiling. I still felt guilty, but it also felt good to say it. “See you at eight. I’ve got to go give a statement.”

As I drove off I thought: love, what a dangerous and beautiful thing.

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