Officer Ester Ramirez, holding the hand of fifteen-year-old Harmony Georgiou, entered the tall glass doors of the offices of Hellenic Records. The fastest growing record label in the country, despite a string of mediocre album debuts. And now Ester knew why.
As Ester and Harmony walked across the black marble flag stones of the huge foyer to the security desk, a poster gallery of fresh-faced and starry-eyed teenagers marched past on the wall. Their names were inscribed in gold cursive script at the bottom right corner of each frame. Henry, Eduardo, Britney, Zac, Blake, Destiny, Delroy, Charlize, Mark, Sharonda, Maria, Lester, Wendy, Sara, Viceroy.
The filing cabinet of Ester’s mind supplied rap sheets for some of them: starting with DUIs, continuing with domestic assaults and escalating into armed robbery in the case of Mark Delahunty. From a different mental filing cabinet came obituaries: drug overdose, homicide, suicide, missing presumed dead. Most of these hopeful young faces hadn’t been seen in years.
The gallery ended just in front of the security desk with a picture of Harmony and Melody themselves, the twin teenaged pop sensation of the moment. An hour ago, Ester had found Harmony at a crime scene. George Katsis, stage name Mandrake, had been found dead in his mansion hunched over a diorama with sheet music scattered all over the room. Harmony was holding the sheet music now.
I should bag that as evidence, thought Ester. The final composition of George Katsis, founding member of Apothecary’s Garden, the band that launched Hellenic Records, would be worth quite a bit to a collector. And Harmony is going to need every penny.
Harmony was very worried about her twin sister Melody who was somewhere inside this cavernous building. Standing between the reunion of the sisters was a formidable security guard. Ester introduced herself to the big lady and handed over her credentials card.
“You got a warrant?” she asked.
She looks familiar. Ester replied, “No ma’am.”
“I gotta check this out.” She picked up the phone and called up the Didymus Police Station drawing out every syllable of the verification process. Ester was pretty sure that the guard did not know that her own boss, Pericles Costanza, the CEO of Hellenic Records was on his way to the Didymus Police Station right now. Ester herself had made the arrest, on charges of statutory rape and guardianship law violation.
Poor Harmony was pregnant to Costanza. And fifteen years old. Try disproving that one in nine months sucker. Ester held her triumphant trash talk in check. Even with a baby as proof this was going to be a tough case to successfully prosecute. Costanza was rich, mean and the brother of a dead drug lord.
Harmony squeezed her hand and tucked herself in behind Ester. In the reflection of a portrait beside the security guard Ester saw a side door. Ester returned her attention to keeping the guard distracted, while she in turn tried to keep Ester delayed. Harmony let go of her hand and made a dash for the side door.
“Hey!” the guard hollered as the side door shut with a soft click. Ester snatched back her credentials card and held up a stern finger with all her summoned authority. The guard’s face fell, and she accepted that she had lost this round. As she retreated to the phone to summon assistance, Ester realised that the portrait on the wall was the guard herself as a teenager. Sharonda.
Oh God, how humiliating. The poor lady had been replaced on the pop production line by a younger model and given a menial retaining job right next to a huge picture of her own face in her prime. Costanza is stone cold.
Ester chased after Harmony as fast as she could without running. Through the side door and into a long corridor. Harmony’s heels flicked around a corner ahead. Heavy treads from pursuers echoed along an adjoining corridor. More than two. Less than six. Ester broke into a full run.
Left, right, right, left. Ester chased Harmony down the hall balancing conflicting fears. The urge to shout at her to stop running for fear of trauma to the unborn child against the fear of losing their head start on finding Melody by alerting the chasing security guards to their location. Ester couldn’t arrest them all, and she had not called this in.
Harmony skidded to a stop, arms wide for balance. They stood under a vast black dome at the very heart of the building. A wide corridor of cells with a caged lamp above each bunker-like door extended into the distance under the dome. Ester was reminded of a battery hen farm. Most lamps weren’t lit. Some were green, others were red. Harmony stood between two doors, both with red lights. Her eyes were shut and her head was bowed.
Harmony’s slim shoulders rose as she took a deep breath. She turned left and punched a code into a keypad opening the door. Ester tucked in behind Harmony as the door shut.
A recording studio. They were standing in a small lounge in front of a wide sound-mixing desk and a glass partition. Behind the partition slumped back in a chair was Melody. There was no point bursting in and checking for a pulse. At the base of Melody’s chair was a dark puddle of blood and urine. Her wrist was slit. Ester could not see the knife.
Ester stepped forward and held Harmony’s upper arms to draw the child back into a hug. Harmony stiffly pulled away.
“Please lock the door,” she whispered and placed her sheet music on the mixing desk. Ester locked the door and studied Harmony. Her reaction to finding her twin sister dead in a recording studio was not what Ester expected.
Harmony tucked herself onto a stool at the mixing desk and put on some headphones. She studied the settings for a moment and pressed a switch. She slowly closed her eyes and entered a private moment.
Ester watched her. The girl drew her knees up onto the stool and under her chin. Closed eyes facing her dead sister behind the glass.
She knew Melody was dead, Ester realised. Harmony had led her to Hellenic Records to find the body.
Why? Two crime scenes collided in Ester’s mind. Just three days ago, they had found the body of Hercules Costanza, Pericles twin brother, in an abandoned church not far from here. Hercules was also known as ‘Rey Guapo’ the feared Zetos drug lord. His body had been melted down in his own body dump. Who knew how many people had been killed in that place? Ester thought of the pop star gallery in the lobby.
Some of those kids haven’t been seen in years.
I should be calling this in. But something stopped her. Everything is going to make sense in just a minute. Just wait. You’ll find it. The connection that forms the proof.
Ester focused on the sight of Melody listening intently to her sister’s final recording and then relaxed her focus to take in Melody’s body through the glass. To lose a twin. To know that half of you had slipped away and could never return. To know that all your birthdays from now on would be memorials to that loss.
Footsteps thundered past the heavy door. Sharonda’s muffled voice asked questions and gave orders. They would be discovered soon.
Harmony came back into the moment as the recording ended. Maintaining remarkable composure, she beckoned Ester over, handed her the headphones and gave some simple instructions with a few whispered words.
Ester took the headphones and sat down. Harmony entered the booth and embraced her sister very gently. With a kiss on her forehead, she removed Melody’s headphones and put them on. She arranged herself on the stool next to Melody under the ceiling microphone and took her sister’s hand. Harmony looked through the glass at Ester. She nodded.
Ester started the playback and pressed record on a second tape. Harmony began to sing. Her song had no words, just melody.
Melody’s song came through Ester’s left earphone and Harmony’s song came through her right. Melody’s song was simple and beautiful. Pure and chaste, fear entwined with hope, sadness infused with the seeds of happier times past.
Ester’s guarded heart filled as Harmony wove her vocal music through her sister’s lyrics laying their voices side by side on tape. In the velvet void of Ester’s mind’s eye a single spinning helix was joined by another. Bonds grew between them, the golden helix made of sound became whole.
The twins were reunited in song and on tape. Their final duet.
Melody’s recording and Harmony’s song ceased at the same moment. Harmony lay forward along her thighs still holding Melody’s hand. Ester stopped the recording.
A series of keypad clicks preceded Sharonda opening the door. Ester turned calmly to face her. She was alone. A thick lock had escaped from her hair bun and she was breathing heavily. Her thunderous face changed as she took in the scene behind Ester through the glass partition. Anger thawed into fear and then into sorrow. A heavy inevitability weighed down Sharonda’s pretty features. Yet another chapter of the same sad tale. A fate that might have been hers if her favour in their slave-master’s eyes had been higher.
Ester took the headphones off as a thin whine of utter despair came through the right earphone. Sharonda touched a hand to her open mouth. She checked the corridor behind her and stepped into the room closing the heavy door.
Ester understood something at that moment. The security guards weren’t there to stop crazed fans getting in. They were there to stop the indentured inmates from escaping this music factory built to launder drug cartel money.
“Poor baby child.” Sharonda breathed.
Ester stood up and faced Sharonda. “Pericles Costanza is under arrest.”
Sharonda’s face registered shock, hope and then dismay.
“He did this, didn’t he?” Ester pressed.
Sharonda shook her head but not in denial of Ester’s accusation. Ester led Sharonda to the couch and sat opposite her.
“Sharonda. How did Costanza do this?” Sharonda was surprised that Ester knew her name.
“Oh no, I can’t talk to you. You don’t know these people.” Sharonda whispered.
“Yeah I do.” Ester gently tipped Sharonda’s chin up to look her in the eye.
“Rey Guapo … Hercules Costanza … is dead. In his own body dump. It’s an abandoned church in my grandmother’s neighbourhood a few miles from here.”
Sharonda bit the back of her hand. A big piece of a puzzle dropped into place for her, revealing an ugly picture.
“What did Pericles Costanza do to you?”
Sharonda’s eyes moistened with memory. Ester waited and listened. No sounds of security guards outside. They were alone, but not for long.
“He said he was gonna corner the hate-song market.” Ester squeezed Sharonda’s hands in firm encouragement.
“The hate-song market?” Ester prompted.
“You know. The ‘I hate my teacher’, ‘I hate my ex-boyfriend’, ‘I hate the bitch who stole my ex-boyfriend’. Those kinda songs. They sell real well to kids.”
Ester understood. Each song that left this music battery farm entered a stock market divided into emotions and trading through the radio.
“And to get hate music, he breaks hearts.” Ester surmised.
Sharonda squeezed inward and then rallied. “Oh yeah! That rat bastard. He’s always trying to make the next Alannis Morrisette. He takes you in, and he talks to you, listens to you like you’re the only person in the world. But he’s just looking for your weak spot. The dial he can twist. He hurts you so bad you gotta sing it out. And he’s there to catch it all.”
“He fucks you and says he’s your boyfriend. For about two weeks. And he tells you that you’re useless and worthless and a waste of his money. And you’re begging him for another chance. So he puts you in here. And says ‘don’t come out ‘til you got something I can sell’. Then he takes his new honey for a ride.”
He breaks your heart then takes your art. The tiny sound of Harmony’s lament came through the headphones on the mixing console.
Ester was deeply torn. Every fibre of her being shouted at her to get the poor kid out of that booth and lay her down here on this couch. Call it in and start taking statements.
She took a deep breath. No. This is the moment. Right here. Sharonda is the connection that forms the proof.
“You are part of this Sharonda. You keep these poor kids in here. Every day you get up, put on that uniform and sit behind that desk. You see everyone who comes in and the state they’re in when they go out.”
Bullseye. Sharonda’s face fell so far her whole head came with it onto her knees. Ester put a comforting hand upon her back.
“I need you to testify.”
Sharonda sat straight up and shook her head, “Oh no. That wouldn’t be right.”
“Staying silent isn’t right Sharonda.” Ester paused to let it sink in. “Costanza is evil. And my grandmother told me this – evil needs only two things to grow, opportunity and impunity. Desire for fame provides the opportunity. And silence provides impunity. And that is how monsters like him just keep on going.”
“You don’t know these people.” Sharonda said again.
“We can protect you,” promised Ester praying silently that she could make good on it.
“From the Zetos? How?”
“Witness protection. Rey Guapo is dead. Zetos will be too busy replacing him to worry about his brother.”
Sharonda shivered. “Why does every kid want to be famous?”
She propped her elbows on her knees and her head on her hands. “Singing for a bad living in one of these cages. You hit one bum note. You say ‘no thank you’ to that drink fizzing in the middle. You say ‘I gotta go home now’ cause you promised your mamma you’d make Sunday service. And you’re out.”
“It’s worse if you’re in.” Ester nodded at the two girls in the booth. She paused for ten heartbeats to let it sink in. Ester took Sharonda’s hand and moved to sit beside her on the couch.
“Harmony is pregnant. To Pericles Costanza. She is fifteen. That’s undeniable statutory rape and violation of guardianship laws.”
“He’ll lay it on Rey Guapo.” Sharonda did not even flinch.
Ester reeled at the hole in her plan. Of course. DNA evidence can’t prove which twin did it. And it’ll be a long time before we can establish Rey Guapo’s time of death.
“Sharonda, that’s why you have to testify. Harmony’s pregnancy has put Costanza in a holding cell, but your testimony will put him in jail. There are other women. Lots of them. You said it yourself. The only way to prosecute a case like this is to bury him under witness statements. Statements that can be corroborated by you.”
After a very long pause, Sharonda made a single nod of acceptance.
Ester stood up ready to go into the booth and comfort Harmony. A heartbroken pregnant child holding the hand of her dead twin sister.
Lyrics on the sheet music on the mixing desk caught Ester’s eye.
The satyr stalks. With a false promise to make her a goddess he lures the virgin in.
A simple garland he places over her head. And she becomes immortal.
Then the garland changes. Into a slave collar of gold.
And the virgin must sing. And sing and sing. To stop the collar tightening.
Exhausted eons whirl away. The virgin rues that very day.
Freedom now she seeks but how? Is she to escape the satyr’s curse?
To regain her freedom what can she give? What does she have that will suffice?
The answer comes in a flash. She must render sacrifice.