Episode 6 - No Reward For Rufus
by Camille LaGuire
Meantime, the sheriff and a deputy tried to get the door open. As nobody was complaining from the other side, I figured there wasn't that much of a hurry, but my opinion wasn't wanted. They eventually sent for the opera house manager, who came huffing in a little bit later, apologizing because he hadn't been able to find his keys, and had to dig out another set.
"Mabye somebody stole them," I said.
The sheriff elbowed me, like I should stay out of it. The manager looked alarmed and then looked down at the blood on the floor and looked more alarmed. The sheriff took his keys and unlocked the door of the closet.
Inside the closet was old Ring-neck Rufus. Dead as dirt. Somebody had shoved a knife up under his breastbone and into his heart. He must have gone fast, but he still bled out pretty good.
This time it was the manager who nearly fainted. I hauled him around the curtain to the stage, where the opera folks were waiting with Casey. I noticed that they were all sitting still for her. Maybe it was the sight of blood, but I thought it was more the look of blood in her eye.
The sheriff joined us a moment later, wiping his hands and nodding his head.
"It's pretty clear what happened," he said. "The bolt on that back door is set to twist in the wrong direction, and Mick here thought he was locking the door but he really left it unlocked."
"No, sir," I said. "I noticed it twisted wrong and I locked it."
"Don't want to hear it!" snapped the sheriff. So I shut my mouth and he went on. "Rufus wouldn't do something like that on his own. Somebody must have hired him. And I expect when Rufus ran, he met up with his fellow and maybe told him how he'd screwed up. That might have been enough motive right there, but this partner also would have been worried that Rufus would talk once he was caught."
"Yes!" said Mr. Henri. "That is what Monsieur Mick said -- we would know everything when his magnificent wife caught the fellow."
He looked at me with a smile, and the sheriff shot me a glance that said he'd rather my name didn't come up again.
"Anyway," he continued. "This partner had to get rid of Rufus, so he brought him back in here and knifed him and shoved him in the closet. And slipped back out into the alley."
"Where you folks were searching," I said. "How'd he get past you?"
"It was after we had moved on from the alley. Had to be."
I supposed that was possible but it didn't set right.
"What I need from you folks," the sheriff went on, "is the straight story of who might want to kill you, or at least scare you."
For a moment they all murmured and glanced at each other, until finally Henri coughed and said something about a lovely lady in the previous town who had a jealous husband.
"I meant nothing," said Henri. "Beautiful women are to be admired!"
"And what about her?" added Madame Olenka with a glance at Clarice. "She threw herself at that man with the angry wife, did she not?"
"What about you, you cow?" said Clarice with enough venom to make a rattlesnake feel inadequate. Olenka shrugged and fanned herself.
"There are always jealousies," Olenka admitted. "But I have no need to throw myself at anyone to cause them."
"I'm sure you ladies have your rivals," said the sheriff. "But no lady could pull a crime like this."
I glanced at Casey, and I could see she was fingering her knife, but I couldn't tell if she was looking at him or me. No, she was looking at Clarice. But the sheriff told Mr. Henri he wanted to know more about the this fellow he'd made jealous, and he sent all the other opera folk back to their hotel.
Case and I were left alone.
Casey went off to the balcony to be by herself. She did that when she felt bad, which made me feel extra bad. But I couldn't help but feel I did not deserve quite as much disgust as I was getting -- well, maybe I did from her, but not from the sheriff.
I had locked that door. And it wasn't the kind of bolt you could unlock with a key. Only someone on the inside could have unlocked it. I remembered how the piano man had tried to leave, and I wondered for minute if he had got messed up by the backward lock and had managed to lock it rather than unlock, and I was distracted enough, maybe then I flipped it back, thinking I was locking it when I really unlocked it.
I didn't think I'd done that, but.... But maybe it didn't matter.
"Case!" I called.
"What?" she yelled back from up in the balcony.
"You didn't find any sign of Rufus in the alley?"
She came up to the railing and leaned over to look at me closer.
"No!" she called back. "What're you thinking?"
"If he'd been back there, you'd have caught scent of him. Sheriff might have lost him, but you wouldn't."
"So when Rufus ran, he must have run right around to the back door and come back in, before we even got to the alley to look for him."
"Why would even Rufus do a fool thing like that?"
"Like the sheriff said: He ran to his partner for help. And that partner was somebody in this building. It was one of the opera folks themselves."
Stay Tuned For Episode 7 - "But Which One?"
Available after 8am EST, on Thur
If you're enjoying this Mick and Casey Mystery, check out their other stories, such as the first novel in the series: Have Gun, Will Play.
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