Chorus Verse Chorus (1)

I was cleaning out a filing cabinet, and found this story, which I wrote in about 2006, and had thought lost forever. I retranscribed it, and cleaned it up a little bit, but kept it more or less as it was. Here’s the first part:

Inspector Mustapha Alawi peered through the rain-spattered windshield with a sour expression on his face. As Diana pulled to a stop at the barricade just past Seventh Street, he lunged for the door. “Hyenas are already here.”

Diana looked up Peachtree, where the barricades were pushing the usual Saturday night cruise around the block, to see the TV lights. “Oh, this is Roxanne’s building.” At Mustapha’s puzzled look, she explained. “Everyone wants to catch her and her entourage on their way out clubbing.” As they got out of the car, she saw that he still wasn’t getting it. “Roxanne Stone?”

“Oh, yeah, the little rocker chick. You mean that’s why we gotta come out here on a rainy night for a suicide? To babysit the press?”

They walked through the barricades and pushed their way through the strata of fans, press, paparazzi and police before they made it into the lobby of the Metropolis complex that loomed over the street between Eighth and Tenth. As they were ushered through the doors, Diana turned back and gazed at the sea of lights, and felt young and innocent again. The range of fans blocking all of Peachtree carried signs and banners, nearly all with variations on We [Heart] You Roxanne, or on Toy With Me, the new single that Diana had heard blasing from her daughter’s bedroom twice a day for several weeks now. One enormous banner had a promo shot of Roxanne, done up about a third of the way from rock to goth, with her great wide vulnerable eyes below a boy’s short haircut. The heavy eyeliner and mascara, and the deadpan waifish stare, made the three-word slogan even more vivid.

Detective Duane Peterson, resplendent in a peacock-blue double-breasted suit and thousand-dollar loafers, met them in the lobby. His tone was half-cheerful and half-ironic, just like usual. “Welcome to Hollywood Fantasy Camp, dreamgirls.”

Mustapha went for a cigarette, then growled when he remembered he had quit again this week. “Tell me I’m here for a reason other than all them zombies outside.”

“Oh, but you are.” Peterson led them into the elevator and winked at Diana in the mirrored walls of the car. “About an hour ago, Ms. Rachel Stein, a.k.a. Roxanne Stone, came down from her penthouse apartment to visit her friend Catherine Jacobs, who lives on the fifth floor of the same building. Dispatch prudently sends someone who has been known to read the style pages from time to time, so when I realized who I was interviewing, I hurriedly phoned Chief Purcell. And here you are, making this a Major Crime.”

The elevator doors opened; Peterson led them around a corner to an open door guarded by a pair of uniforms. The apartment looked as if the contents of a Pier One had been catapulted into it from far away. A stressed-out looking brunette in her mid-thirties sat in the dining room, chin on hands, elbows on table. Her heavy eye makeup had run and smudged all over her cheeks and temples; neglected between her elbows was a weakly steaming mug of tea.

She looked up at them with a thousand-yard stare. “Are you, like, the major detectives? Because I really need to get out of here, but they said I had to wait for you.”

Mustapha glared down at her. “Why, you got some magazine to be in?”

Roxanne glared back, then looked away after a moment. “No. The opposite. I just lost my only real friend: I want to be alone.”

Diana pulled up the other chair and sat down. “I’m Detective Siddall. This gruff but lovable fellow is Inspector Mustapha Alawi. I’m sure you can understand that the City of Atlanta wants to make sure there are no misunderstandings.”

Roxanne picked up the mug and drank it halfway down before replying.” Do what you have to do. I just–”

“Ms. Stein, what do you mean when you say that Ms. Jacobs was your only real friend?”

She sat back up and focused a million-candlepower pair of eyes on Diana. “She knew me from before. Before I became Roxanne.”

Diana found the glamour moving, but managed to keep her voice steady. “And everyone else you know?” Mustapha moved off through the dining room and into the bedroom where the Crime Scene techs were gathered.

Roxanne finished her tea. “Came after. Cathy was my next-door neighbor growing up. We used to play on the swings together. I started doing TV when I was eleven, movies at fifteen, first album when I was nineteen. Now I’m twenty-nine, and there are five hundred people outside who want a piece of me. And if I don’t go clubbing tonight, there are promoters, and club owners, and photographers, and clothing, hair and makeup people, and waitresses and bartenders and DJs, who are going to have their professional reputations or monthly income seriously disrupted. But she’s the only one who really knows what makes me laugh or cry.”

“Is that why she lives in your building?”

“Sure. Once I decided to start spending the winters down here, Cathy came with. She ended up loving it.”

“Did she keep loving it?”

“She was fine! Wonderful, even. That’s why I can’t understand why… why she’d do this! She was enjoying grad school, she actually had a boyfriend–” Roxanne picked up the empty mug and slammed it down onto the floor. But instead of shattering, it only bounced weakly off the faux-Persian rug, then rolled to a stop under a buffet table painted with what might have been dragons. “That was supposed to break.” She put her forehead down onto her folded arms and gave herself over to her tears.

Diana wanted to get up and pat her on the shoulder, but her debate over whether this was appropriate was interrupted by Mustapha. “Hey, Dee? C’mere.”

She followed his voice into the bedroom. Peterson and Mustapha stood at the foot of the bed while Dave Keller from Crime Scene and his lovely assistant Marcia had the body of a woman laid out on the floor between the bed and the open closet doors. The victim might have been pretty once, but nobody looks good after ligature strangulation. She wore a soiled white nightgown over a figure thick in the hips and thighs. The dark green fringed decorative rope she had used to hang herself, in the gap in the row of clothing in the closet, remained tied about her throat.

Mustapha pointed at the corpse. “Looks like a suicide, don’t it?”

Diana smiled. “What’s not right?”

Keller answered her question. “This kind of suicide? Imagine hanging yourself from the closet rod. There’s no drop, so what you do is lean forward so the rope cuts off the big vessels to your head.” He put his spread-out thumb and forefinger under Marcia’s chin, on her throat. “You pass out, then you gradually suffocate.” Marcia crossed her eyes and stuck out her tongue. “But the same gravity you use to make yourself pass out pulls the rope away from the back of your head.” He mined this by putting his other fist behind Marcia’s neck and then pulling it backward. Marcia stuck her tongue out even further.

“So if she really killed herself,” said Diana, “she’d only have ligature marks on her throat, but not on the back of her neck.” She knelt down to have a look: Keller and Marcia rolled the body to make it easier for her to see that the livid marks went all the way around Catherine’s neck.

Mustapha turned to Peterson. “Looks like you got your Major Crime after all.”

“Y’all can take the rest of the night off, call it a garden-variety homicide.”

They all whirled at the sound from the doorway. Roxanne was on her knees, eyes red, makeup running. “Homicide?” she wailed. “Somebody killed Cathy?” Diana nodded. Roxanne just gazed back at her with those fantastic eyes. “What have I done?” she wailed. Her eyes went up into her head and she slumped to the floor.

Continue to part two

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  1. Chorus Verse Chorus (2) | Julian Cage
  2. Chorus Verse Chorus (3) | Julian Cage
  3. Chorus Verse Chorus (4) | Julian Cage

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