Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Corpse Of Many Colors

It didn’t take long for Brad to find an usher who could escort him backstage but, considering the shriveled old man’s unpleasantly haughty attitude, Vanessa’s suggestion of any possible romantic involvement seemed absolutely ridiculous. After showing his police badge at the security checkpoint, Brad followed the elderly usher down a maze of corridors until they passed through the two large doors leading to the main stage.

From here, the Met’s great gold curtain didn’t look very impressive at all. The stage was brightly lit as workmen scurried about and, as Brad stepped over a cluster of thick cables, none of the glamour the audience had savored earlier that evening was present. He continued toward center stage, where he could see John Axenbourg’s body lying in a heap on a steeply slanted wooden platform. To his surprise, large portions of the scenery had already been broken off from the set and were being wheeled into the wings by the Met’s stagehands.

"Who’s in charge here?" asked Brad.

A dark, swarthy stagehand wearing a carpenter’s apron over his jeans pointed toward three men standing near the control booth at the far side of the stage. Two of them were dressed in business suits. The third wore jeans and a brightly-colored Met T-shirt. All three were huddled in an intense conversation.

"That blond guy in the dark suit is the one you want," yelled the stagehand as he headed toward the rear wall of the building.

Brad approached the three men and, flashing his police badge in his left hand, introduced himself. "Excuse me. I’m Sergeant Carson, a detective from the 61st Precinct. I was in the auditorium for tonight’s performance and was told that one of your singers died onstage rather mysteriously. I thought I’d better come back here to see if there’s been any foul play. Which one of you is in charge?"

The blond leaned forward to shake hands. "I’m Drew Gelfand, General Director of the Metropolitan Opera. This is Rick Freitag, one of our stage managers, and Glenn Rosenzweig, Mr. Axenbourg’s personal manager. How can we help you?"

"Well, first of all, we’ll need to rope off the area around the body."

The stage manager looked at Brad in disbelief. "Not unless you’ve got an extra $10,000 to cover the cost of overtime," he grumbled. "Listen, buddy, this is the Metropolitan Opera House, not Miami Vice. I’ve got to have this set all broken down and put away by midnight."

"Just cool it, Rick," urged Gelfand as he took Brad by the elbow and escorted him away from the stage manager’s booth. "Look, I don’t know who sent you backstage but I’m mighty glad to see you. I’ve already called an ambulance and the police are due here any minute. As you can imagine, we’re all pretty shaken up."

"I understand," said Brad. "If you don’t mind, I’d like to look at the victim’s corpse before it gets sent to the coroner for an autopsy. Then I’ll need to speak to the people who were onstage with this man when he died. Are they all still around?"

"Oh, sure. They’re changing out of their costumes right now," replied the Met’s General Director.

When Drew, Brad, and Glenn Rosenzweig knelt down beside John Axenbourg’s corpse, the baritone’s body was almost completely obscured by the shiny gold cape he had worn for the final scene of Das Rheingold. At first, Axenbourg’s skin color seemed surprisingly ruddy to the detective. Then Brad realized that the dead man’s face was still covered with pancake make-up and that the victim’s hair remained hidden beneath a wig. There were no traces of blood to be seen. Nor were there were any signs of foul play.

"When the paramedics get here, Mr. Rosenzweig, can you accompany the victim’s corpse to the coroner's office?" asked Brad. "We’ll need to have both his body and this costume inspected for any clues."

"Sure," answered Rosenzweig as he wiped tears from his eyes.

"You must understand one thing," interrupted Drew Gelfand. "We need to have that costume and wig back here within 48 hours. Glenn, you take care of everything when the ambulance arrives and I’ll see you in my office in the morning. Okay?"

"Yeah, Drew," sighed Axenbourg’s manager.

"Officer, why don’t you and I go to the dressing room area. Come with me."

Next: Who's On First?

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