The fanfare of Verdi’s Requiem announced the entrance of Officer Ester Ramirez and Detective Hubert Maimone into the palatial mansion of Mandrake, the most recently deceased citizen of Didymus.
Six in as many days. Impressive for Detroit and a heck of a spike in this two-bit town, Ester thought. The mansion was the biggest for miles around. Mandrake had once been a famous musician. Precisely what he was doing here in Didymus was anyone’s guess. Anyone who got lucky or famous left town real quick.
Didymus’ only other claim to fame was the curiously high number of twins born here. A statistical anomaly seized upon by the motels on the interstate offering weekend romantic getaways to the childless and desperate. Close enough to the town to draw on its magical fecundity without getting close enough to suffer the drugs, poverty and crime.
The magnificent notes of the chorus soared and sank around a grand sweeping staircase in the lobby, straight out of a coffee table book of sixteenth century Versailles architecture. All cold marble and reproduction Dutch masters. Alphonse LaCroix and a doe-eyed, fresh faced new starter had pronounced death and were on their way out. Ester exchanged a nod with Alphonse. He indicated the location of the body with a jerk of his massive bushy brows. Same direction as the source of the music. He patted her on the shoulder in a ‘see you later’ kind of way, exchanged a quick handshake with Maimone, and bustled off to the next job.
Selwyn Clarke, their crime scene photographer, had paused behind Ester at the threshold of the mansion, eyes downcast, holding his camera like a steering wheel. She left him alone. He was in the midst of some personal mantra. The little rituals that stand in place of prayer and get the godless through the daily horrors of the job.
Detective Hubert Maimone stood at her right. He stepped past her in the direction of Alphonse’s cue even though she was pretty sure he hadn’t seen it.
Ester chided herself. You’re getting jumpy girl. Don’t let it get to you.
Yesterday’s multiple murder clung to her like a stench that could not be cleansed. Prayer lessened its clutch, but it didn’t retreat far.
Ding dong, Rey Guapo is dead.
The mystery of the drug lord’s long absence from Didymus was solved. He had been boiled up in that vast vat in the desecrated church in the ruined neighbourhood of Ester’s grandmother. He had suffered the same death he had forced on so many others.
Ester stood in the lobby for a moment as Maimone headed toward the source of the pounding waves of song. She put her hand on her hip, feeling the rough texture of the fabric gun holster and let the magnificent music wash through her. It stopped.
Dammit Maimone. You’re interfering with the crime scene. Clarke cut short his usual preamble documenting the entry and exit points of the mansion and edged past her, now holding his camera like a shield.
Through a doorway that looked like three quarters of an elaborate gilt picture frame was a large music room mostly bare except for a piano, a desk and chair, and a cabinet on which sat a huge sound system. Ester couldn’t be sure, but she thought Maimone had just quietly shut the cabinet doors.
At the centre of the music room knelt a naked man in foetal position surrounded by strewn sheets of music. Art interrupted. A camp bed was next to the piano and Ester suspected drug paraphernalia in the cabinet behind the camp bed.
With a glare at Maimone, Clarke started his orderly sweep of the room laying down numbered evidence markers as he worked. Maimone and Ester kept out of the way until Clarke indicated that he wanted Ester and Maimone to turn the body over. The dead musician huddled around something, as though he was shielding it with his dying breath. As they gloved up, it seemed that Maimone was reluctant to touch the body.
The musician’s jaw dropped open as his body rolled easily onto his back. He had not been dead long. He had healed up track marks in his inner elbows. The thing he had been shielding was peculiar. A white box without a lid. Clarke laid down a numbered evidence marker and stepped back fiddling with his camera. Ester peered closer, careful not to get in the way of Clarke’s shot.
The white box was a diorama. It was a mock-up of a room with tiny chairs around a statue of a Greek goddess. In one hand she held a bow and arrow. She was looking directly up at Ester and she did not look pleased. One wall of the diorama was an exquisitely rendered tiny mural of a beach looking out to the ocean. On the beach was a pig, a cow and a sheep. Or more accurately, half a pig, half a cow and half a sheep. And at the foot of the displeased goddess statue were two tiny men. Both cut in half. The sundered edge of each figurine, men, sheep, pig and cow was melted and the legs were missing. A familiar unpleasant scent, common in so many crime scenes wafted up from the diorama. Ester sat back.
Clarke crouched really close aiming his camera down the dead man’s throat. The zoom whined as it extended toward the dead man’s open mouth flecked with white foam.
“So,” Ester asked of Maimone as she rocked back on her heels, “you know him?”
Maimone snapped out of a moment of introspection. “Sure,” he answered a little too fast, “he’s George Katsis. Went by Mandrake. A musician. Was in that band a decade ago.”
“Which band?” Ester played dumb as she stood up.
“You know,” Maimone replied, “The one with all the twins. They started out here. Got famous. Broke up. Usual story.”
There was a huge picture on the wall, in a white frame decorated with an ivy motif, of a band on stage. Apothecary’s Garden was written on the bass drum. And yes, four of the musicians were pairs of identical twins. In the picture George Katsis was alive and well and frozen in the moment, belting out a song, gripping the microphone for dear life. The man next to him playing pan pipes had the same face.
“Is that his brother?” she gestured at the picture.
“Yeah.” Maimone seemed sad. “Stavros Katsis. He wrote some of the songs. You never heard of them?” Ester’s ears pricked at a subtle sound. She held up her left hand and put her right on her holster.
Clarke looked up from his crouch over the corpse and tuned in. A purple full length curtain behind the piano twitched.
“It’s okay,” Ester projected her voice at whoever was hidden there and held up her hand as Maimone also went for his gun. “We’re with Didymus Police. You can come on out.” Ester didn’t know how she knew that the hidden person was female.
This is bad. Yet another breach of protocol. They hadn’t swept the house yet. There might be more people here. Potential suspects or witnesses. It was Maimone’s call, but this looked like an accidental death due to drug overdose and therefore not a crime scene. Their evidence and testimony probably wouldn’t go any further than a Coroner’s Court, but they were still doing a lousy job.
There is a crime here, I can smell it. There was a small sob from behind the curtain. Sounded young.
“Okay, I’m going to come on over there.”
“No. Don’t.” A girl stepped out, long brown hair framed her face, mascara in streaks down her cheeks. She was holding noise cancelling headphones in one hand and a phone in the other. Small, well-proportioned and probably pretty on a better day than this one.
“Well hello there honey. I’m Officer Ramirez, and this is Detective Maimone and Mr Clarke.”
The girl’s eyes were fixed on the corpse of Mandrake. She either did not hear or could not reply. Her eyes were bright and clear. Didn’t seem out of it. Just deeply distressed.
Ignoring an unspoken protest from Clarke and her own misgivings about conducting an interview at a crime scene, Ester steered the girl toward the chair at the desk, sat her down and crouched down at eye level. The girl looked up, met Ester’s eyes and dropped them to her hands held in her lap.
“What’s your name, honey?” No answer. Ester looked around the room making eye contact with Maimone. He left to make a call. A single sheaf of the scattered sheet music on the desk held musical notation in wild pencil scrawl. Written at the top was “My dulce sensei Atë, by George Katsis and Harmony Georgiou.”
Ester twigged. “Harmony Georgiou? That’s you right? Yeah, I know you. You’re a singer. You and your sister Melody.” The girl cringed and contorted inward drawing her feet up onto the lip of the chair. She hugged her knees and laid her head on them.
“I heard some of your stuff. It’s real good.” Wrong tack to take. Either the kid knew Ester was lying or the mention of music was just as traumatic as her dead composing partner. Irritating though they were, the songs of the latest teenaged super-duo Melody and Harmony were impossible to ignore. Piped through every radio, bleating from tinny speakers held by impoverished kids bopping along in a moment of reality relief.
Ester supressed a smile. I’m getting old. Music nowadays wasn’t any more rubbish than when she had been a teenager. She’d just edited out the bad bits.
Harmony and Melody were another pair of Didymus twins with burning ambition and a song to sing. They had come to the attention of the entire country through a TV talent show and picked up an agent. Caution prickled at the back of Ester’s mind. This girl was underage.
“Do you want me to call your mom?” Ester asked.
Harmony shook her head.
“What about your sister?” Harmony cringed further.
Uh oh. Ester backed up. Careful girl. She warned herself.
Ester held up a hand to Clarke, silently asking him to leave the scene. She knew he would not be happy about it. The number of procedure violations were mounting up. But he would defer to her.
Harmony visibly relaxed her grip on her knees as Clarke left. He had that sort of effect on people. They were alone, with only a corpse for company. Ester took one of Harmony’s hands in her own. There was something very wrong here. Ester followed her gut.
“Harmony, how old are you?”
“Fifteen,” came the muffled reply.
“Are you pregnant?”
“Yes.” Harmony was not surprised by Ester’s guess.
“Is it George’s?”
A ruckus from outside. Raised male voices. One of them Maimone. In strode Rey Guapo. Ester blinked. Same wolf-like eyes, same bald head. But no tattoo of a Z on his temple or INRI across his neck. Rey Guapo’s brother. Yet another set of Didymus twins.
Harmony cringed and Ester embraced her.
“Sir, this is a police investigation,” Maimone remonstrated following him in. Clarke trailed in behind keeping his distance. “I’m insisting that you leave.”
“Save it copper. I’m Perry Costanza.” He flicked a business card through the air at Clarke, who caught it, read it, and passed it to Ester.
The business card read “Perry Costanza. CEO Hellenic Records.”
“Sorry for the loss of your brother Mr Costanza,” Ester barely kept the rage out of her voice. The connections between the drug trade and the music industry were well known but impossible to prosecute. And here was the most blatant of connections right in front of her.
Costanza fixed her with a curious glare. “I don’t know nothing about that.”
Ester loosened her embrace on Harmony in preparation to stand and deal with this weapons-grade bastard only for Harmony to clutch her more tightly. A penny dropped.
“Is it him?” she whispered in Harmony’s ear.
“Yes.” Harmony whispered back.
Costanza pulled out a cell phone. “Doris… get up you worthless bitch. I’ve got ten million to make and a three week nostalgia window to make it in. Order in 200,000 copies of the first three Apothecary’s Garden albums. Only those three. The others were shit.” Behind Costanza, Maimone looked genuinely murderous. “They gotta be in the shops tomorrow.” He paused. “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. George Katsis just killed himself. Shame he didn’t do it six years ago. Twenty-seven is the sweet spot for dead lead singers.”
Costanza kicked the piano stool. It spun smoothly out into the centre of the room. A measured thug. Smart and self-controlled.
“Yeah he’s fuckin dead.” He stood over George’s corpse and squinted down into his open mouth. “Well he sure as fuck ain’t dancing. Hang on, I might have something else.” He turned his wolf-like glare on poor Harmony and snatched a sheaf of sheet music from the floor.
“You get that song done kid? Did Mr Wash-out finally do something worth his retainer? I got your useless sister in a studio filling up tape with noise. You better have something I can sell.”
Harmony broke and clung to Ester. Her neck dampened under the girl’s tears.
“Okay, mister. That is enough. You are leaving.” Ester growled. Maimone backed her with a solid hand on Costanza’s shoulder. Costanza ignored him.
“Kid, come on. Snap out of it. People die. That’s how it is. Pick up this shit and get in the fuckin car. We’re going to the studio.”
“She’s not going anywhere with you.” It was Clarke who spoke. Ester was filled with quiet pride at that roaring mouse.
Costanza closed the distance between them, fast and threatening. Clarke’s eyes widened but he held his ground. “Oh is that right? Well I got news for you. You are going to release her into my care, cause I’m her agent. And I’m a legal guardian.”
Maimone exchanged a started look with Ester.
With a quick squeeze, Ester gently disentangled herself from Harmony. She squared up to Costanza. The corpse of George Katsis lay between them. “Mister Costanza, you are under arrest.”
Maimone picked straight up on his cue and slapped a cuff around Costanza’s wrist. The big brute was too stunned to resist. Harmony looked up.
“Bullshit. What charge?” Costanza rallied.
“What?” he glared at Harmony, who stood up and faced him. Ester felt a stab of pride.
“A formal charge of sexual relations with a minor will be forthcoming in due course,” Clarke shot a sad look at Harmony as she took Ester’s hand. “And we’re going to bump that up to ‘aggravated’ for said sexual relations with a minor violating guardianship law.” Maimone took a bit too much pleasure in bundling Costanza out of the room.
Harmony snatched up the scattered pages of sheet music. Ester helped. Lyrics jumped up from the page in her hand.
Oh Erato, hear my plea. Hear my shame. Hear my crime.
Oh Erato, your slave repents his maulings upon your other slaves.
I saw but did not know. I saw but did not care.
I thought the ones brought to me were willing. I was wrong.
Some slept. Some wept. All were rounded up by the Satyr at dawn.
I render unto you my final offering. My soiled seed spilled with my dying breath.
Erato, strip me of this heavy burden, my mortal body, and speed me past the thought-repellent paint that imprisons my true love.
Harmony’s wide dark eyes were on her. “Quick, we’ve got to find Melody.”