One Final Scene
I gently squeezed the paper coffee cup in my gloved hand and braced myself for the steep climb up the paved parking lot. I was bound to hit a patch or two of black ice and if I slipped, my precious coffee would have priority over my knees.
The perpetrator had attacked his victim just after 2 that morning, no doubt taking advantage of the intoxicated, costume clung, Halloween crowd. As they stumbled between each of the six bars dotting the small downtown district, most would have been locals headed home by foot. At least two of them had decided to relieve themselves in the doorway of the old Nevada Theatre. One never made it out and the other discovered he was peeing in a puddle of blood.
Clutching the notebook and pencil in my other hand, I mentally noted one pair of steel doors at either end of the wrought iron stairs connected to the aged brick building. I made it to the top of the hill, coffee and knees intact, and rounded the corner. Puffs of white air, laced with strong coffee greeted my frozen nose, giving me just enough warning to jump out-of-the-way.
“Watch it, Bruce!” I yelped as he jumped back and looked up from his notebook.
“Sorry, Samantha. I didn’t think you’d be here yet, driving from Sac and all.”
“It’s four in the morning on a Sunday. Even taking it easy to avoid the black ice, it took me just under an hour with no traffic.” I sighed, annoyed that we had to have this conversation, again. Bruce seemed to forget I could practically drive highway 49 blindfolded, day or night.
I silently nursed my strong Flour Garden Bakery caramel macchiato while Bruce recited the details from the police who had just left to interview the bar tender at McGees, the bar just up the block from the theatre.
“The victim was a twenty-five to thirty year old, Caucasian male. Cause of death probably a stab wound under his chin. None of the witnesses the officer interviewed recognized him and he had no ID. Greg Darby was the one who found the body. Let’s pray he didn’t destroy any vital evidence. You just missed the coroner.” Bruce nodded toward the highway entrance at the bottom of Main Street. Then he turned toward the theatre entrance doors.
“We might find our only break inside. This door was cracked open slightly when the Nevada City police arrived, so there is a possibility the suspect hid behind here, waiting for the first drunk of the night to use this doorway as a urinal.”
A three-foot deep brick wall jutted out into the sidewalk on either end of the theatre entrance, shadowing just enough of each corner to conceal a couple of theatre goers. The corner to the left was blocked off with yellow crime tape, the outline of a body in the corner. The theatre had been closed for a little over ten years, but I still had vivid memories of going there as a little girl. I recalled trying to stay warm while standing in that exact corner as my mother chatted with friends and I buried my cold face in her black, wool trench coat.
“Sam? Let’s go inside.” I regretfully tossed what was left of my coffee into the mesh wastebasket on the curb and followed Bruce.
The thin layer of dust covering the box office window appeared untouched in the glow of our flashlights. I had purchased my own ticket for the premier of Mystic Pizza from that window when I was fourteen. I would never forget how Julia Roberts dumping fish into the back of a red convertible had started my obsession with romantic comedies.
Suddenly, we heard a crash coming from the balcony.
“What would the perp still be doing here?” My voice squeaked with shock as Bruce darted up the stairs. “I’ll check the lower exit along the west wall seating. Bruce— the only exit upstairs is also on the west side.”
I dashed toward the double doors leading to the lower level seats and the stage. Just as my flashlight revealed a rolling projector cart to my left, I remembered that a relatively steep ramp divided the stadium seating. Turning off my flashlight, I carefully positioned the cart between the doors behind me and the doors below. A moment later, a dark figure rushed past me, heading straight for the lower exit doors. I pushed the cart with all my strength, forcing the suspect’s feet over his head, which landed with a hard blow on the first row of wooden seats…