Instruments of Murder

Joe scoffed at first, saying metal detectors were ridiculous—a toy to keep retirees busy while they shuffled around the lawn of their assisted living homes. His wife Cheryl had merely raised an eyebrow in his direction, reminding him without words that he was retired and in dire need of a hobby. He’d tried it—grudgingly—and now he was hooked. Not because he found much of value, but because he could empty his mind of the things he’d seen over the years and lose himself in searches that were interesting, but not matters of life and death.
He was just heading out to do a relaxing sweep through the park when the phone rang, bringing a request from his former partner to sit in on a case the department had just caught. This wasn’t a first; Joe still consulted for them on a fairly regular basis. He agreed to take an informal look at the crime scene before it bloomed into a full-blown investigation.
The town’s concert hall was an unusual setting for a murder, with gilded plaster columns and rows of velvet seats as silent witnesses to the crime. The acoustics were so perfect that he could hear the discussion on stage as he walked down the aisle towards it.
“Good to see you, Joe,” his former partner said, welcoming him with a handshake. “Thanks for coming. Take a look around, see what you see.”
As they would be for any orchestra, the chairs were arranged in a half circle facing the conductor’s podium. The only thing out of the ordinary was the obviously dead body of the conductor, slumped over the podium, his face dark and contorted from the strangling pressure of the bow strings around his neck.
Joe circled the podium, leaning in, careful not to touch anything. He noted a gash on the conductor’s head—nothing life-threatening, but enough to stun the man until the perp could get the bow around his neck and finish the job. The bow jutted out on either side of the conductor’s neck; the strings were buried out of sight in his flesh. Someone had chosen this method to send a message, but Joe couldn’t interpret it. Not yet.
After taking the notes he needed and some quick cell phone pics as reminders, Joe went home to let things percolate. All during his career, he’d had a special sense about a lot of his cases, almost as if he had cat whiskers for picking up extra information that others missed. He felt this was no ordinary murder for gain or revenge; there was something deeper at its rotten core, something that tickled at his mind, beckoning him to follow it until he could grasp a thread in the darkness, then another, and begin weaving the truth into whole cloth.
Cheryl was still at work when Joe got home; she spent several days a week at their local paper, mostly editing copy, but sometimes writing news and features as well. Although Joe had always discussed his cases with her, both were careful that no details he shared ever found their way into the paper before being released by the police or substantiated by other sources. He ate a quick sandwich standing over the sink, snagged a bottle of water from the refrigerator, and went out with his metal detector, focusing on something completely different so that his sub-conscious could wrestle with what he’d seen in the concert hall that morning.
Joe shared a few details with Cheryl when she came home, but mostly he kept his thoughts to himself. Even in retirement, it was important that no leaks about an investigation be attributed to him or his wife, nor did he want to burden Cheryl with insider information that she’d have to compartmentalize in order not to influence the news reports she might be asked to write. She asked several questions that revealed her interest and her long familiarity with police work, but he kept his answers general, telling her that it was all too preliminary yet to draw any conclusions. Cheryl nodded and let it go. After all these years, she knew a dodge when she heard one.
Sometime in the night, Joe dreamed he was back in the concert hall, wading through a sea of red velvet that clutched at his legs, trying to drag him down. He beat at it with his metal detector, finally reaching the stage only to discover that the entire orchestra was dead, but still grimly practicing. Their timing was off because the conductor was simply swinging his bashed and bowed head side to side without any real direction. Through it all, the metal detector kept pinging and pinging, letting Joe know there was something there, something he couldn’t see, something he would know if he could just uncover it.
Joe awoke, sweaty and wild-eyed, at least an hour before Cheryl’s alarm was set to go off. She was sleeping peacefully, undisturbed by his unpleasant dreams. He slipped out of bed, thinking a cup of coffee would clear his thoughts.
Cheryl’s laptop was open on the kitchen table where she’d worked after he went to bed. He hit the power button to wake it up and look at the day’s news while the Keurig purred a stream of dark roast into his mug. Two headlines caught his eye immediately: Conductor Unbecoming and Conductor Takes Bow, but they weren’t on the local news site. The headlines were options for a news story Cheryl had apparently started last night—clever headlines based on information she couldn’t know, unless—
Joe trembled as the tell-tale ping-ping-PING of the metal detector echoed in his head, demanding that he uncover the truth.
“Good morning,” Cheryl said behind him. He turned slowly toward her, his face registering dismay and dawning truth. She was smiling. “I meant to finish that before you woke up,” she said. “After all, Joe, you’re not the only one who needs a hobby to help you relax.”

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