Authors: Laura Disilverio
“I heard there were shots fired at Fernglen today, Emma-Joy,” he said, not bothering with any of the social niceties.
“Blanks,” I said. “An accident.”
“Still, sounds more exciting than the horseshoe tourney at my retirement complex. I was thinking I might come down tomorrow, check out the action.”
I rolled my eyes, grateful he couldn’t see me. As if the movie people being in the mall didn’t make my life chaotic enough. “Just don’t go tailing anyone,” I said warningly. I’d more than once received complaints from shoppers who were worried that the businessman/homeless person/wheelchair-bound invalid—pick a disguise—was stalking them through the mall. I was convinced Grandpa must have flunked Surveillance 101 in spy school and he’d been trying to compensate with extra practice ever since.
“I’ve got to keep my skills up, Emma-Joy,” he protested.
“Not in my mall you don’t.”
• • •
I reported to
work early on Tuesday because the movie people were shooting a chase scene that traversed a lot of mall acreage. The shoot was set to start at seven, with the hope that they’d have it wrapped by Fernglen’s opening time at ten o’clock. Fat chance. Edgar Ambrose, the laconic black man who usually worked the night shift, hauled his bulk out of the chair in front of the monitors when I walked in.
“Anything interesting happen?” I asked.
“Nah.” He lumbered toward the coffeemaker on the file cabinet and dumped out the used filter. He began to make a fresh pot and I arched my brows; usually, Edgar was out the door moments after his relief stepped into the office.
Understanding dawned. “You want to watch the filming.”
He shot me a sheepish look from under heavy brows. “I always wanted to be an actor.”
I stared at him. I’d never heard the man string together more than ten words and he wanted to be in a career field that required near constant verbal expression? Will wonders never cease, as my grandma used to say. “Well,” I finally said, “we could probably use your help keeping the area clear.”
“What I thought.” Edgar nodded.
Joel and Coco arrived simultaneously moments later, and then most of the rest of the Fernglen Galleria security force showed up, including several officers who weren’t on duty. Apparently, all of them had turned out in a spirit of altruistic volunteerism to help provide security for the movie company’s shoot. I swept them with a cynical gaze, but Coco thanked them all for coming and shot me a helpless look.
I was tempted to let Coco sink on her own, but I realized her ineptitude could delay filming and cost the movie company big bucks, or create problems for the mall’s merchants and shoppers. Taking charge, I assigned the officers to various parts of the mall, mostly to make sure that unauthorized people didn’t get into the mall during the filming, and to cordon off the areas where the carefully choreographed chase scene would take place. We usually opened the building at four thirty for mall walkers, but we’d excluded them this morning. Despite that, there were a surprising number of people in the halls and I realized they were movie extras costumed as shoppers. Mounting my Segway, I glided toward the atrium, where the movie crew was setting up cameras and lights and other paraphernalia.
I had to admit I felt a glimmer of admiration for the sheer logistical undertaking of filming a movie. Whoever had coordinated the use of the mall; gotten the cameras, lights, props, and generators to Fernglen and positioned them; hired the dozens of actors and extras and made them up and costumed them; and arranged for food for the hordes involved in the production, deserved a lot of respect. I wondered if whoever it was had trained by planning an army invasion. Come to think of it, orchestrating a military invasion was probably easier because there’d be fewer egos involved.
I saw Ethan apparently discussing something in the script with Van, the director, and he waved. I gave him a cool nod meant to remind him that we didn’t freaking know each other. For a man who pretended for a living, he had a lot of trouble pretending we’d never met. He flashed his famous smile at me, totally unrepentant, and three extras behind me—women, of course—sighed in unison. I wondered if Mom was around. She frequently showed up on Ethan’s sets for lunch or to play a game of gin with him in his trailer between shots. She told me it never hurt to remind the starlets and extras and script girls that he was a married man.
“There are drawbacks to being married to a sex symbol, EJ,” she’d told me once. She reflected for a moment. “Of course, there are undeniable benefits, too.” Her veiled smile left me in no doubt of her meaning and I put my hands over my ears.
Now, I thought about how cozy Ethan had seemed with Zoë and wondered if she was one of the “drawbacks” Mom had referred to. The filming kicked off at five after seven, with Anya Vale the center of the action. Her character, a mobster’s mistress about to turn state’s evidence against her lover and his criminal associates, would be chased through the mall by a contract killer intent on shooting her. The scene included stuntmen and women pushed down escalators, bullets exploding plate glass windows, tumbling mannequins, and a body falling from a second-level bridge to the floor below. It was going to require several days’ filming and lots of special effects and stunt coordination. If I’d written the script, the attractive but underestimated mall cop would have saved Anya Vale’s character, running over the hit man with her Segway, or drowning him in the fountain, but the scriptwriters, in their clichéd way, had provided a police officer—Ethan’s character—to rescue her.
Assistants in tee shirts emblazoned with the movie’s title started clearing the set, and I rode the elevator to the top level and joined Joel where he stood at the railing, watching the action below. Today’s filming was mostly taking place on and near the escalator. Someone yelled for quiet and a voice called, “Action!”
The fake shoppers started “shopping” and a business-suited man in a fedora caught my eye. He was strolling almost directly beneath us and I leaned forward for a better look. A glimpse of white hair peeping beneath the hat convinced me. Grandpa Atherton! How had he wangled his way into the movie? I wondered uneasily if he was on an “op.”
A moment’s consideration convinced me he couldn’t be. It probably tickled his fancy to worm his way into the movie. I doubted he was a paid extra; somehow, he’d slipped in without the casting people or other extras noticing. I bit back a grin as he pretended to window shop at the lingerie store, where a headless mannequin wore a particularly risqué red and black corset and panties. I wondered if the store’s owner had changed the display, hoping to get a little free advertising, or if the set designer had supplied the garments.
“This is so exciting,” Joel whispered as Anya Vale ran into view from the far end of our level, sending hunted looks over her shoulder. She wore a designer suit that certainly hadn’t been purchased in this mall, and her hair streamed like a dark cloud behind her as she ran. “Did you know she went to Princeton?” Joel whispered. “I read about it in
FANtastic Movie Mag
. She studied geology and got discovered in a Bloomingdale’s in New York.
year before last was her first big break.”
I merely nodded, watching as the star started down the escalator, frantically pushing past the shoppers that clogged it. A shot rang out, making Joel and me jump, until we realized it was a blank fired by the hit man who had suddenly appeared, gun extended in black-gloved hand. I recognized him as a character actor who frequently played heavies, but I couldn’t bring his name to mind. A “shopper” tumbled over the side of the escalator, apparently shot, and landed on an inflated mat below. The stuntwoman bounced off the mat and gave a thumb and forefinger okay signal to someone I couldn’t see. Anya screamed and I resisted the urge to cover my ears.
“She’s got some lungs on her,” Joel said.
I slid him a sideways look, but I didn’t think he intended the double entendre.
The screaming went on and on and it took me a moment to realize it wasn’t only Anya Vale screaming anymore.
• • •
The sound came
from the first floor, somewhere near the theater wing. Before the thought had even coalesced, I was zipping toward the elevator on my Segway, Joel jogging behind me. As I stabbed the button to descend to the first floor, an irritated voice yelled, “Cut!” and someone else asked, “What’s that infernal racket?”
The screams had stopped by the time I exited the elevator on the first floor. Someone grabbed Joel to ask what was happening, but I kept going. The movie people were behind me, milling about and setting up for another take, apparently willing to forget about the screaming now that it wasn’t messing up their shot anymore. I wasn’t.
With the mall not open to customers, and the movie people clustered near the atrium, the halls at the north end of the mall were deserted. I glided silently down the Macy’s wing, peering into darkened shop windows. Nothing seemed out of place. Barred by the closed grille at the Macy’s entrance, I turned around. Back in the main corridor, I was heading to the theater wing when a choking sound came from the narrow hall on my right, a spur that led only to bathrooms, service corridors, and an emergency exit.
I had barely turned into the hall when the door to the men’s room burst open. A man in a green jacket appeared and tripped over the yellow plastic “Closed for Cleaning” sign sitting near the door, righting himself before he fell. He looked around wildly—I’m not sure he even noticed me—then lunged for the door at the end of the hall, hitting the release bar and bolting into the parking lot. The sudden burst of daylight in the hall was disconcerting, and I flung my forearm up to shade my eyes. When they adjusted, I started after the man, but stopped when I drew level with the men’s room. The sun illuminated a smudged handprint beside the door. It glimmered red.
Damn. I didn’t want it to be blood. Drawing closer, I confirmed my worst fears and shut my eyes for a split second, then snapped them open. Was the man who’d run out injured? Should I chase after him? Or, maybe someone still in the restroom was hurt and needed help. I couldn’t ignore the possibility. Dismounting the Segway, I pushed into the bathroom, automatically using my shoulder to nudge the door open rather than contaminate what might turn out to be a crime scene with my fingerprints. The door yielded with a slight
I didn’t see anything alarming. A bank of urinals reminded me I was in a men’s room. The scent of bleach burned my nostrils. My gaze swept the sinks—no blood, no injured shopper collapsed beneath them. I turned toward the four stalls and saw blood spatter on the floor. It wasn’t much, I thought hopefully; it could have come from a nosebleed. The stall doors were shut, but I thought I heard the ghost of a moan and lunged forward, all concern for possible crime scene forgotten, to push open the nearest door. Nothing. I banged the second door inward and saw a foot. It extended from beneath the adjacent stall. Breaths coming faster now, I pushed on the third door and immediately saw a body lying on its side in a semifetal position, blood from a stomach wound contained within the C shape formed by the woman’s body.
I keyed my radio, but no one picked up in the security office. Everyone was watching the filming, I realized, fumbling for my cell phone. Coco had said she’d stay and cover the office and watch the monitors, but she wasn’t answering the radio. I dialed 911 for an ambulance and leaned forward to feel for the woman’s pulse. At first, I didn’t detect one, but when I shifted my fingers on her neck, I felt the tiniest thread of life. I’d had enough buddy care training in the air force to know I needed to treat her for shock. I didn’t know how long she’d been lying on the tiled floor, but she was cool to the touch and her skin matched the white ceramic of the toilet. Strands of rich brown hair partially obscured her face.
I yelled for help as I slipped out of my uniform jacket, a lightweight Windbreaker, and draped it over her upper body. I needed to elevate her feet, too, I knew, so I ripped nearly full rolls of toilet tissue from the rollers and propped her feet atop them. I felt helpless, like I was doing too little, too late. Her eyes were shut and I couldn’t tell if her chest was rising and falling or not. Trying to decide if I should put pressure on the stomach wound, or if that would cause further damage, I was relieved to hear voices and footsteps in the hall.
“In here,” I called. “Hurry!”
Joel stumbled through the door, skidding to a stop at the sight of me on the floor, tending the injured woman.
“Give me your jacket,” I said, “and go outside to flag down the EMTs.” Spotting Harold Wasserman, another of our officers, I told him to stand at the entrance to this side hall and make sure no one came this way. He left without a word.
I was tucking Joel’s jacket around the woman’s legs when running footsteps sounded outside the restroom and a couple of EMTs in navy blue uniforms burst through the door. Grateful to abandon my post to the experts, I backed out of the bathroom to give them room to work. It seemed like half an hour but was probably fewer than five minutes before they were wheeling her out on a gurney, IV flowing. I could tell from their grim expressions and their haste that the woman was in real trouble. To avoid the looky-loos gathered in the main hallway, the EMTs hurried the gurney out the service door that Joel was holding open, updating someone via their radios.
As the door swung shut, I collected myself and began to make a mental list. The police would be arriving any minute, alerted by the 911 operator, and they’d be unhappy to find hordes of people gawking at the crime scene. Harold had displayed some initiative and gotten a maintenance person to bring the stanchions we used to rope off lines for Santa photos or author autographs, and he, Joel, and I forced the crowd back by setting up the stanchions. I realized all the onlookers were movie people, extras, or technicians not involved in the scene currently being shot, and I was grateful that the mall wasn’t open to regular customers.
The thought of shoppers brought Curtis Quigley to mind, and I knew I needed to let him know what was going on before the cops and reporters started arriving. He was not going to be happy that we had another “incident,” as he would call it, that would reflect negatively on the mall. What with the reptile “liberation” from the Herpetology Hut that had garnered “snakes in the mall” publicity, and the murders of a local developer, a gangbanger, and two of our security personnel within the past couple months, Fernglen was getting a reputation as a dangerous place to shop.
Figuring that Joel and Harold could hold the fort, I headed for the administrative offices, planning to break the news to Quigley in person. As I rounded the corner into the main corridor, I bumped into someone turning into the hall. Strong hands steadied me by gripping my upper arms, and I looked up into a narrow face with an aquiline nose and fjord blue eyes. Nordic-blond hair was brushed back from a high brow and a resigned look settled on the handsome face as he recognized me.
“Officer Ferris. I might have known.”
“Detective Helland. Known what?” I pulled away from his grasp, putting a couple of feet between us. I wasn’t sure I liked Detective Anders Helland much, if at all, but something about him set me on edge in a not entirely unpleasant way.
“That you’d be mixed up in this. Do you realize I haven’t investigated a single homicide in the last two months in which you weren’t involved?”
“It’s not a homicide,” I said, refusing to let his tone irritate me. “She’s still alive.”
He shook his head. “Died on the way to the hospital. You haven’t messed up the crime scene, I hope.”
I stood, stunned and saddened, as he pushed past me to get to the men’s room. “Don’t go anywhere,” he said over his shoulder.
Crime scene technicians trooped after him, as did two uniformed officers belaying black-and-yellow tape to cordon off the area officially. All I could think was that I’d failed the young woman by not finding her sooner, by not doing enough to keep her alive. The sensible part of me recognized that I’d done all I could do, but I felt wretched nonetheless.
“Emma-Joy, are you okay? What happened?”
I glanced up at Grandpa Atherton, concern shadowing his face. His fedora was tilted at a cocky angle and I stared past him, noticing other movie people milling around.
“Fine. Are you done filming?”
“Never mind that. Why is there blood on your shirt? Are you sure you’re not hurt?”
I looked down to see the dried red streaks on my white uniform shirt. “Not me,” I assured Grandpa. “Someone else. A woman. I found her in the men’s room.”
“Is she going to be o—”
I was shaking my head before he finished. “She died.”
He eyed me closely. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Someone bellowed “Places!” and Grandpa looked over his shoulder.
“Go,” I told him, making shooing motions. “I’m fine. I’ll fill you in when you’re done doing your Cary Grant shtick.”
“I do look debonair, don’t I?” he said with a grin, poking one finger under the fedora’s brim to nudge it to a jauntier angle. “If I hadn’t been recruited by the CIA, I could have made a go of it in Hollywood.”
“It’s never too late,” I said, smiling for the first time since entering the bathroom.
With a two-fingered salute to the hat’s brim, he headed back to the movie set, moving with the slouchy ease of a Rat Packer. Maybe the CIA’s gain was the movie industry’s loss, I thought with a small smile.
It vanished when a hand gripped my arm above my elbow and Helland’s voice spoke from behind me. “Let’s find a place to talk,” he said. “I understand you found Ms. Winters.”
I looked up at him. He topped my five-six by a good six or seven inches. “Was that her name?”
He nodded. “Yes. Zoë Winters.”
Zoë! That was the name of the woman—
A gunshot broke into my thoughts and Ethan’s voice yelled, “Gun!”