“Valli, I think we should try to find out how they moved the body. It could be a good clue to who the killer is.”
“How they took the guard from the hallway to the stage?”
He knitted his brows. “I don’t think anyone has found something like that yet. But there’s all sorts of things in the theater. I have no idea what they used.”
“Think about what we know. She was killed outside your room, probably during the show. So someone had to move and hide the body during the show. We can probably narrow down what they could have used to do that.”
Valli hummed thoughtfully, placing a hand on his cheek. “Where should we start?”
“Well, we won’t find anything here. Come on.”
We started wandering around the back, investigating anything with wheels. Clothing racks were sitting around. We shifted them around but couldn’t figure out a way to balance or hide a body on one.
“We have some equipment to move heavier props,” Valli suggested.
I hesitantly went down to the basement with him. Floor dollies were down there, which were basically rectangles on wheels. I grabbed the corner of one and shifted it back and forth to test it. The wheels moved smoothly.
“This could move her, but… It would have been pretty conspicuous. How would they hide the body?”
“If they covered it…” Valli placed a hand on his chin as he mulled it over. “Well, I suppose that would still be obvious. Maybe if they had a box on top of it, and put her in the box?”
“That’s possible, I guess. But where were these dollies during the show?”
“Oh, we didn’t need them. They would have been in the basement.”
“So if someone used one, they would have had to drag it up from the basement, put something large on it, and wheel it down the hallway and back. Wouldn’t someone have noticed that?”
He sighed. “I guess you’re right. This probably isn’t it, either.”
“What else is there?”
“I’m not sure… I need to start getting ready for the next show soon.”
We were puzzled. Nothing seemed plausible. Somehow someone had to move and hide the body at the same time when the place was packed. How? There had to be some way!
“That’s fine. Let’s go back upstairs and see if we can find anything else.”
We wandered through the dressing rooms and the back of the theater with our eyes peeled. Many of the staff had left during the break between shows, but a few stayed, so extra people were loitering around. The cooks were in the kitchen prepping for the next service.
“Leander.” Valli grabbed my attention.
He walked over to the kitchen, standing near the wall where the carts were lined up. I quirked a brow before piecing it together, then trotted over to join him. The carts had white cloths hanging over the sides that almost touched the ground.
Kneeling down, I lifted the cloth up. Underneath there was a second shelf just a few inches above the floor. A body could have been placed on there and covered up with the cloth.
I stood back up. “I think you have something here. And I think I have an idea who it might be.”
“There’s not a lot of time left before the next show, though.”
“Stick with Ellora. I’ll take care of this.”
He went back to the dressing room and I went to the entrance to get Aliseam. She was standing with another guard again.
“Aliseam!” I grabbed her attention as soon as I pushed through the large entrance doors. “I think I know who did it!”
Her attention was on me. She folded her arms.
“Valli and I were trying to figure out how they moved the body without being noticed and there’s dining carts in the kitchen.”
Her arms dropped to her side. “That’s a possibility.”
“The other day, when I was talking to people in the kitchen, one of the caterers seemed to have a problem with Ellora.”
She held a hand up and stopped me. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We haven’t even verified if the carts were used yet.”
My racing heart fumbled. It felt right but she was correct. We didn’t have the evidence to back it up.
“Hold down the front,” she told the other guard. “Keep staff from coming in the back until I give the go ahead.”
I followed her inside. There was a large storage space on the right side of the theater in the back. Tiamy had used it before. Aliseam pulled out a bottle and thin, see-through gloves.
Then she went to the kitchen. The staff was vigorously cutting and cleaning.
“All right, everyone needs to go to the lobby for around fifteen minutes!” she announced.
Cooks looked up with panicked eyes.
“But the next show it going to start soon!”
“We need to get ready for service!”
She hushed them. “You can get ready in fifteen minutes, but for right now I need the kitchen and back empty. Everyone get in the lobby.”
It took some more shooing to get them away from their posts but Aliseam drove them out. I hung back awkwardly, wondering if I had to leave, too, but she didn’t say anything to me. With the back evacuated save for people in the dressing rooms, she turned off all the lights. There weren’t any windows in the back so only the lights through cracks in the doors and from way down the hall could be seen.
She set down a v-phone she had and knelt down by the carts, taking her bottle and squirting the bottom parts. Concentrating on her work, she sprayed them bit by bit. I stayed back and watched. On the fourth cart a light blue splotch glowed on the right side of the shelf. She grabbed her v-phone and took some pictures.
She turned to me with a serious expression.
“Can you tell me which caterer it was that you suspect?”
“I can, but…” I lowered my ears. “We still don’t really have proof it was him, do we?”
“Leave that to me.”
I told her and she wheeled the cart to her room, turning the lights back on as she did. When she came back she headed out to the lobby. More people had gathered in there as show-time drew near, fidgeting and pacing.
“All right, people can go in!” Aliseam shouted.
People rushed through at a moment’s notice. I got out of their way, looking at Aliseam.
I followed her back inside to the front of the kitchen area. The cooks had sprinted back in and were frantically catching up on their work.
Other staff walked briskly to the dressing rooms and soon the back of the theater was bustling.
The caterers began grabbing carts and getting them ready in front of the kitchen pass.
“Donsaye!” Aliseam yelled out. He turned his head, hands on the handles of a cart. “I need to talk to you.”
“What is it? We’re trying to catch up on work here.”
“I’d be interested in knowing why your fingerprints were found on Visrial’s uniform.”
He froze in place. I blinked in surprise, and the staff around us halted their work.
“That’s impossible,” he answered, eyes wide.
“And yet it’s true. We have clear prints on both sides of her jacket.”
“No, that’s not possible! I was wearing gloves!”
There was a pause as he, and everyone else, realized what he said.
Aliseam grabbed his arm and yanked him away while everyone stared in stunned silence. She held his arms behind his back and brought him to the front to one of the other guards. The other guard took him, and in a matter of seconds he was gone.
I approached Aliseam afterward.
“I didn’t know they found fingerprints.”
“They didn’t,” she answered. “I’m going to the station for awhile.”
“Will there be enough guards here?”
“I’ll call for someone to replace me. You can go back in.”
The next few hours went by in a blur while I waited behind the scenes. Now that they had the murderer I wasn’t sure what to do. I talked to my dad for awhile and sat with Valli during his downtime. The show ended and people evacuated the theater, leaving it empty. Valli, Ellora and I sat around a table, all impatient for Aliseam to come back.
Our eyes turned to her immediately when she returned that evening. The sudden gazes stopped her in her tracks temporarily, before she walked over to the table and stood next to it.
“What happened?” I asked.
“They’ve interrogated him and confirmed he was the one who did it.”
“So he used one of the food carts? How did they both end up over by Valli’s room?”
“Based on his confession, he snuck over to the living quarters to leave Ellora the letter. He wore gloves so he wouldn’t leave prints, but when he put it down he accidentally knocked her papers over. He panicked and rushed back to the hallway to leave when he saw Visrial.” Aliseam shook her head. “She must have noticed him heading into the living quarters and gone to check it out.”
I grimaced. An unfortunate coincidence.
“When he saw her he ran into the closest room, which was Valli’s. He grabbed the stick there, and right when she got to the room he rushed out and stabbed her.” She imitated the motions, gripping the air as if she was holding something and jabbing. Her expression fell and her tone lowered to a whisper. “Right in the heart.” I winced. I could only imagine how difficult it was to talk about someone she knew like that. There was a moment before she spoke again but none of us rushed her.
“Some blood fell on the floor before she fell backwards. He dropped the stick and started trying to shove her into the bottom of the cart. He tossed the stick under there with her and tried to clean up the blood, but it just smeared, and he didn’t have time to keep trying, so he left. He stayed late to clean up tables and dumped her then, after the show was finished. I guess the stick had fallen off the cart at some point. He couldn’t find it.”
Glancing to the side, I recalled seeing him walking around with his eyes on the floor. Is that what he had been looking for?
“But why would he do any of that? I’ve never even talked to him!” Ellora asked.
“Apparently a few months ago there was a woman who auditioned and you were… less than kind about her performance.”
“So he did all that because I insulted his girlfriend?” she spat.
“That’s the weird part, actually.” She wrinkled her nose, but maintained her composure. “We interviewed the woman and she doesn’t know him. Apparently she had a stalker.”
A sense of alarm ran through me. It sounded like we were fortunate enough to catch him before something happened to someone else.
Aliseam rubbed the palm of her hand over her eye. She looked like she was tired or had a headache or something, and I didn’t want to trouble her anymore.
“Well, thanks for letting us know,” I said. “I’m glad you caught him. Everyone will be able to sleep better tonight.”
She answered with a light nod. Looking around, I could see we were all exhausted. It had been a long day, emotionally and physically. Surprisingly, Ellora let her hand drop to the table with a smack, before pushing herself up and quietly walking away. Even she wasn’t immune.
“I guess I’m going to get back to Valli’s room,” I said, adding softly, “Take care.” I forced my gaze away and focused on Valli, escorting him to his room one last time.
He plopped down on the edge of the bed with his eyes on the floor. I grabbed the strap of my bag. Outside his window the evening sky had taken over, casting a purplish glow.
“I guess I could go home today,” I said with the bag hanging limply in my hand.
“Yes,” he answered. A sense of hesitation lingered in his voice. It was weaker than normal, “Everything should be fine now.”
His hands were folded on his lap. I could practically see his mind running a marathon. Mine had been racing so much the past few days that I was afraid it was dead on the track now.
I cast a hesitant smile at him. “Would you like me to stay one more night?” I asked.
He held his hands together, eyes turned away from me. There was a slight flush on his cheeks.
“That would be nice.”
I let the strap of my bag slip from my fingers.
“That’s fine with me.”