Something creaked in the hallway. My body tensed. My ear snapped to attention.
The door knob jiggled but it was locked. Time stood still while I focused on the door. Moments later the footsteps continued down the hallway – slow and quiet. I crawled out of the bed and crept over to the door, pressing my ear to it. They stopped next door. I heard the rattle of another door knob. It didn’t open. They continued to the other side of the hall, testing the doors over there. My racing heart was grateful when all of them were locked.
I strained my ears. They walked back up the hall, eventually fading into silence.
I glanced at the bed. Valli was still curled up, sleeping peacefully. He was my friend, but he wasn’t the person I’d turn to in a situation like this.
Nudging the door open, I half expected someone to be waiting on the other side even though I heard them leave. A veil of darkness covered the hallway. I stepped out and closed the door behind me, going next door to Ellora’s room.
My entire body was shaking when I knocked. I waited, and knocked again. I didn’t want to knock too loud and draw attention.
After a bit Ellora’s voice demanded, “Who is it?”
“Shh,” I hushed her, whispering through the door, “It’s me. I just heard someone walking through the hallway.”
The door clicked and she opened it. “Are you sure you weren’t dreaming?”
“I’m positive. Someone came down here and tried to open all of the doors, but they were locked,” I told her. “They went back down the hall.”
She disappeared in her room momentarily before coming back with a metal rod.
“Good, you can cover me,” I said.
“And who will cover me?” she asked.
I scowled at her.
“I figured I could run away while you took care of them,” I answered.
We slinked through the hallway. I could barely see anything but I kept my ears alert. We made it down the living quarters without spotting anyone. None of the doors were open. We turned to the theater.
Every step I took I worried about making too much noise. The carpet squished under my feet and muffled the sound of the wood creaking underneath.
Light shone from the other side of the theater, somewhere back where the kitchen was. It flicked off while we were inching towards it. Ellora stood ready with her rod up. A creak on the other side of the theater sent a chill through me.
Ellora stayed near the wall and I kept near her right side. I listened for anymore creaking but heard nothing. We got a couple feet away from the end of the wall.
Someone swiveled around the corner with arms held straight, “Freeze!”
I jumped back. Ellora raised the rod. All three of us stayed in position. We didn’t even take a breath. The stranger reached to the side with one hand while holding the gun in the other and flicked the lights on. It was Aliseam. Her gun was fixed on us.
“What are you doing out here?” she demanded.
Ellora nodded her head towards me. “He heard someone walking down the hallway and trying to open doors.”
She lowered her gun. Ellora exhaled.
“That was me,” she admitted. “I couldn’t sleep. So I thought I’d make sure everyone locked their doors and check the theater.”
She slid the gun back in its holster. Ellora let the rod hang by her side.
“Couldn’t sleep because of the murder?” I asked.
She put her fingers to her forehead, plunking down in a nearby seat.
“I talked to her parents yesterday. I promised them we’d find out who did it.”
That’s right. Aliseam was a guard, so she worked with the victim.
“I don’t really like the idea of a murderer walking around, either. Do you have any idea what happened?” Ellora asked.
“Not yet, but talking through it might help.”
“Did it sound like the police have any idea?” I asked.
“Not yet. They aren’t sure where she died and it sounds like she was stabbed in the heart with something long and sharp.”
“One of Valli’s hair sticks,” I stated.
Her eyes flicked up at me. “They found the weapon?”
“Someone took it from Valli’s room. We found it yesterday covered in something, but we didn’t realize it was blood until later,” I explained. A pained look crossed her face. “We already turned it over to the police,” I added.
“So there’s a robbery attached to the murder?” She put a hand to her chin.
“Yeah, he left it on his desk before the show and it was gone after the show.”
“Hmm.” Aliseam leaned forward, resting her chin on her hands. “Maybe it was a robbery gone bad, then. Valli’s hair pins are pretty recognizable. If Visrial saw someone with one of them she might have confronted them.”
“Did anyone see her after the show?” Ellora asked.
“No. I thought she went home, but no one actually saw her leave. Chances are she was killed around here somewhere.”
“I wonder when it happened then. There would have been a lot of people around during the show…”
“She was on duty in the lobby during the show, so she would have spent most of the time in the front and occasionally walked through the back to make sure no one was trying to sneak in.”
“Does that happen often?” I asked.
Ellora gave me a pointed look. “No. Not a lot of people are stupid enough to try and break into the theater.” I narrowed my eyes at her.
Aliseam mused aloud, “I guess it could have happened in the lobby while everyone was inside watching, but there would have still been gift shop workers around.”
“It’s hard to imagine getting away with murder with so many people around,” I said.
She let out a hefty sigh, slumping forward. “I just don’t get it. No one had any reason to kill her, and she was doing so good. She had her own place and she just met someone.”
I perked my ears up. “She just met someone?”
“One of the cooks here,” she said, then laughed softly. “She said it was perfect because she couldn’t cook at all.”
I furrowed my brows, wanting to press further but not wanting to offend her, “Do you think they…?”
She sighed. “I considered it, but I can’t see him doing anything like that. Besides, he’s one of the cooks. They’d notice him missing pretty fast if he wasn’t in the kitchen.”
Keeping him in mind, I nodded. A silence fell over us until Ellora broke it.
“I don’t know about you two but I’m exhausted and there’s a show tomorrow. I’m going back to bed.”
My eyes felt like weights were attached to them.
“I’m tired, too,” I admitted. “At least I know no one is trying to break into the rooms.”
“I doubt I’ll be able to get to sleep. I’m going to keep an eye out for a bit,” she said. I nodded.
Ellora went back before me. I didn’t wait long to shamble back to Valli’s room and lock the door behind me. He was still curled up. I tiptoed back to the bed and nestled under the blankets.