The murder of Tam Linn, aka Tommy Linetti, has just taken place backstage at the Fillmore, and Prax, Rennie's best friend and an upcoming rock singer, is being questioned...
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"I keep telling you," said Prax wearily, on the point of either tears or tantrum or possibly both, "I went to scrounge some guitar strings from him, 'cause I broke two of mine at the sound check and then I broke the spares too. I was nervous and I overtuned, and there wasn't time to go out and buy more. Tam plays the same kind of guitar I do, I figured he'd have some extra ones I could borrow. I wasn't going to steal them. I would have given them back, or paid for them. It's the first time I ever played here, I didn't know who to ask or where to go. I didn't even see him at first."
"Who did you see?" asked the detective. "Backstage?"
"Just—people. Nobody who stood out. There's always a lot of people backstage before a show. The Fillmore stage crew. The cats who do the lights and the light show. Roadies for the bands, mine included. Plus friends of the bands, you know. Groupies and people just here to—wish us well."
"People with drugs?"
"Maybe. Probably. Bill Graham doesn't like drugs himself, but he doesn't stop musicians from doing them backstage. Or even onstage. Or the audience either. But you can't bust him for that—"
"Miss McKenna," her inquisitor said, not unkindly, but making damn sure she heard the exasperation in his tone, "I assure you we have bigger things to think about tonight than a few pothead musicians toking up. So when did you first see him, then? The victim."
Prax hesitated, and the official police pen abruptly stopped scribbling. 'The victim'…he means Tam…how very strange…
"Not him himself. I saw the—blood," she said reluctantly. "It had trickled out of the road case, you could see it on the floor."
"Out of the what?"
"The road case, the anvil case—the big trunk that you put things in to take on the road. Amps and drums and stuff. Anyway, I thought it couldn't possibly be what I thought it was, what it looked like. When I went to check, just to be sure, I saw that the trunk lid wasn't latched and when I touched it it swung open, like a book, and he just—fell out. Well, his right arm did. Not the rest of him. He was in there pretty tight."
"He'd been stuffed in the trunk?"
"You know he was, it's—he's—just like he is over there."
Prax didn't look, but jerked her chin Tam-wards, over to where the double-sided case, big enough to take a full-grown man if he was well folded up, stood with rubber-gloved police technicians surrounding it. Thank God its open side faced away from her.
"He was sitting there in the case, his knees right up to his chin. He was wearing that fringed jacket he always wore on stage, and his face was turned away from me. But I knew it was him. I could tell by the hair. I couldn't see where the blood was coming from, except that the side of the jacket was all wet and dark. So I screamed for help."
"What time was this?"
"I don't know, I don't wear a watch. Maybe six? We had come early for the sound check. B.B. and the Lamps had to do theirs too, and we wanted to get it over with and then go out for something to eat, not have to rush. But Bill Graham doesn't let bands leave once they're here, so we ate first and then came over."
"And you were alone in the dressing room?"
"Yes. Well, except for him. Tam. Dead Tam."
"When was the last time you saw him alive, then?"
Prax unfocused her gaze, trying to remember. "I guess—when we all got here. He was just sitting, watching the house crew and his own roadies unloading Deadly Lampshade's equipment."
"He wasn't unloading equipment himself?"
She snorted with laughter before she could help herself. "Tam? He never lifts a finger. He doesn't bother with checks; he even has other people tune his guitar for him. What sort of musician is that?"
"I'm sure I don't know," said the detective cheerfully, and Prax felt a little better. Maybe this won't be so bad, it's almost over, how many more questions can he ask…
"How many crew were around, Miss McKenna, and how many band members?"
"Well, my band has two roadies, Tank and Idaho, and a sound guy, Ziggy, but we all help with the equipment; there are five musicians, counting me. Six in the Lampshade, plus three roadies, a sound guy and a light guy; and I think B.B. King has eight cats in his group. He used the Fillmore crew to set up, he didn't have any roadies that I noticed, though I'm sure he does."
"So you and the other band, the Lampshade, you have your own help and you didn't use the house crew at all."
"No, no, the Fillmore crew is great, they do most of the work. I just meant that with the house crew around, our guys didn't have to bust their hump like they usually do."
"And they all were where?"
"Onstage. Setting up. Like I said. When I came backstage to ask Tam for the guitar strings, I didn't see anybody."
"But you had seen him earlier. Not just sitting lazily onstage. Here?"
Prax's voice had gone a little wary and reluctant. "—Yes."
"Well, what? Did you have a fight with him?"
"Oh, okay, you're going to find out anyway… He tried to hit on me."
"You mean he made a pass at you. A physical pass?"
"It wasn't the first time." Despairingly: "And since someone's bound to tell you about it sooner or later, I might as well tell you myself. Yes, we did have a, a thing once, Tam and me. It didn't go anywhere, a couple of weeks was all. But that doesn't give him the right to feel me up every chance he gets."
"It certainly doesn't. What did you do?"
"Same thing I always do when he tries that crap with me. Told him to go screw himself."
"And something else?"
"—I slapped his face. Really hard. But that's all. I swear. It was only because he was, you know, groping me—seriously groping me, please don't make me get into anatomical specifics—and he wouldn't stop until I hit him."
"What did he do when you hit him?"
"Rubbed his cheek and laughed. Then he left the room. I didn't see him again until—"
"That's fine, take your time." The voice was professionally neutral, and Prax shivered. "When you came back later looking for the guitar strings, and you saw him, if you didn't touch him how did you know he was dead?"
"Well, there was all the blood, wasn't there? Kind of a tip-off? And he wasn't moving or anything, and I thought that if he was actually alive he probably wouldn't have let anybody stuff him in there like that."
The unspoken "You fucking moron" hung between them in the breeze, and the detective, no doubt hearing it telepathically, looked all at once a bit more human.
"No. Of course not. I'm sorry to make you go through this."
"Am I a suspect?" asked Prax after a pause.
"Everyone who was in the Fillmore tonight will be questioned, Miss McKenna. And probably plenty more who weren't."
"Should I call my manager? Or a lawyer?"
"If you want to. Nothing stopping."
"Do I need a lawyer?"
"You tell me."
As the discoverer of the body, Prax was being dealt with much like Columbus when he came back to Spain full of big fat whoppers about a whole New World: people weren't exactly disbelieving her, but neither were they buying her story entirely. Or maybe that was just how it seemed to her. Other cops were talking now to the rest of Karma Mirror and to B. B. and his musicians and to the Lampshade and the Fillmore crew, but no one was saying very much, and they all looked every bit as freaked out as she felt. And anyway, nobody else had been around when she walked in and found Tam dead, so she was on her own.
The detective saw Bill Graham enter the room, and excused himself to go question him. Or, more likely, be screamed at by him. Prax found to her chagrin that she was on the verge of tears again, and couldn't decide, to her shame, whether she wanted the detective to see this and feel sorry for her, or whether she'd rather he didn't see it and think how cool she was. Either way, she was still alone, and she didn't know where she stood or what to do or whom to trust.
Maybe I should call Rennie, she's the only person I know who might be able to help. Jasper wasn't home or at the office, no one even knows I'm in trouble…would they let me make one more phone call, since I couldn't reach Jas? Or is that one-call deal only if you've been busted? Which I don't think I have yet? Or have I?
The moment was interrupted by forensic technicians getting down to work, by morgue attendants coming in to remove Tam and the road case together, and then, like some kind of miracle, by a hippie dea ex machina: Rennie entering in a great swift rush of air and energy, her red snakeskin coat flying behind her like a Valkyrie's cloak, intent only on getting to Prax. Before her approach, people leaped aside in terror; in her wake, Stephen came bobbing helplessly, a dinghy behind a destroyer.
"Not another word, Praxie, here's your lawyer, shut up at once, do you hear me?"
"He had such a great voice," Prax heard herself saying somewhere far away, into one of those sudden silences, and everyone within earshot turned to stare at her, so out of it had she sounded. And looked: all glazed and dazed.
"Yeah, well, the first time I ever met him he was being a total jackass," said Rennie brutally, hoping to shock Prax back to normal, heedless of scandalized looks from the eavesdroppers clearly thinking Who is this chick, hasn't she ever heard of speaking no ill of the dead?
Apparently Rennie had not, or if she had, she didn't particularly care. "It was a photo shoot for the Clarion—Garrett had written the story himself. Tam couldn't be bothered, apparently, fixing his own goddamn hair. Good hair, I must say. Thick and straight. Like goat hair. He just tossed his head, flicked me a leather headband like I was Mammy dressing Scarlett for the barbecue, and said, 'Do it for me, babe.' "
"What did you do?" asked Prax, diverted; she had had such a rush of relief and gratitude at seeing Rennie that for the moment she'd forgotten what was going on around her.
"What I should have done was loop the thing around his throat and strangle him right there… Just kidding, officers! No, I took that headband and tied it so tight I hope he got a migraine. Anyway, I think he dyes the lovely mane. Dyed it. Died it. Oh, dear."
"I've been doing that myself. That detective hasn't helped— What? No, the kinda cute one over there arguing with Bill. I think they think I did it. But I only found him, you know."
"I do know. It's going to be fine."
Prax belatedly noticed the other person standing patiently behind Rennie. "Stephen! What are you doing here? Well, what are both of you doing here? I was going to call you, Rennie, I couldn't get hold of Jasper, but I just—I didn't—"
"It's okay," said Rennie, with a swift glance at Stephen. "It's okay. I was coming anyway, to do that little piece Jasper asked for, remember? But Stephen phoned to say you were in trouble, and we both came straight here. I drove, he cabbed. We just met up outside."
"Then, thank you, Stephen—but how did you know?"
Stephen smiled at her—encouragingly, he hoped. He liked Prax, a lot, but she scared him even more than Rennie now did.
"I got a call from—oh, there he is. "
Rennie followed his eyeline. "Him? That's the detective who's been hassling Prax. I'd call him the pig detective if I were a Berkeley girl. Which, thank you God and Cornell and Columbia, I am not… He called you?"
Across the room, the detective's eyes widened and warmed as he noticed them; with a word and an upraised hand he left Bill Graham, with whom he had been talking, or rather, by whom he had been being profanely shouted at, and came over to them at once.
"Marcus! Glad to see you!"
They know each other? Rennie stared as the two shared a manly bear hug. The detective stood about Stephen's height, just shy of six feet, with a great build and gray eyes and caramel-colored hair, on the longish side for a cop, sort of 1964 Beatles. He was even cuter than Stephen, and he looked vaguely familiar.
"Hi there, cousin. And of course you're Rennie."
"Of course, if you say so—and you are…?" asked Rennie politely, if a touch tartly.
My cousin-in-law, I presume…
"Marcus Dorner. Inspector Marcus Lacing Dorner, SFPD," he added, in case she hadn't yet gotten it.
"Marcus is my second cousin on my father's side," said Stephen. "I didn't get a chance to tell you before you hung up and ran out of the house. He called me because he knew I knew Prax."
Marcus nodded, smiling. "And I also knew, because everybody in the family does, that cousin Stephen's wife is the Rennie Stride who writes for the Clarion. We've met before, at one or two family events, but you won't remember. I've read your stuff."
"Thank you, glad you like it."
"I only said I read it," said Marcus, amused. "But yes, I do like what I've read, very much. You've got a nice sharp style."
"And speaking of sharp—"
"Right, right. So it was you who found the body, Prax?" asked Stephen.
But Marcus intervened, all cop again. "Are you really acting as her lawyer, Stephen? I'll have to ask you all to come down to the Hall of Justice, then. Just to talk."
"Prax?" asked Stephen, looking with concern at her bent blond head. "Do you want me to—I'm a corporate lawyer, I don't have much experience in this sort of thing, but just for now—"
"That's right, just for now," snapped Rennie. "Now is all we need. All right, then, let's split."