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I watched the dancers on either side of me and tried to bounce and kick at the same time everyone else did but was usually half a beat behind all the way till the end of the number.

"Be patient with her, guys," Amanda said kindly. "She's trying. -- Margo, at the finish, we're actually supposed to collapse and lie flat on the floor. But you've just been kneeling and hunching down like a Moslem praying."

"Sorry. -- It's the knees."

"You mean you have a problem getting down there?"

"No, I can get down all right. But if you're hoping for me to get all the way up again some time before the next song, this is as far down as I can commit to."

She sighed. "It'll have to do then. -- Let's finish dressing."

By the time I'd arranged my Marilyn wig and buttoned up my black "Trannie" tailcoat, Nick was already in his "Riff Raff" gear and peeking through the curtain. "Here comes our audience. Bless the card club. They're filling up the first two rows."

"Are my parents out there?" Jason was pouting in the mirror to admire his crimson lipstick outlined in burgundy.

"I see two old people by themselves on the right, near the exit door."

"That'll be Mom and Dad. They're almost fifty."

I shook my comb at him. "Hey, fifty isn't...!"

"And there's one dude sitting alone in the back," Nick informed us.

"Is he 'old' too?" I asked sarcastically.

"Can't tell."

"The movie's starting!" Amanda called. "'Brad' and 'Janet', take your places!" William and Teri gave their wedding guest costumes one last yank and hurried out of the dressing room.

I waited in the wings while "Brad" and "Janet" drove away from the wedding, and got lost in the thunderstorm. And I sang "There's A Light" along with them as they made their way through the rain to the scary old castle. Then at last I heard my cue, about "the void" calling, and bustled out on-stage, struck the pose and sang my enthusiasm to do the "Time Warp Dance" again, jumped left and right, front to back, kick, kick, kick..

After we all fell down at the end of the number, I tried to be graceful about getting up again. I needed both hands but at least stifled my usual grunt. Naturally, I was the last one upright. Except for our "Magenta", Elsie, who still lay in "swoon" position face-down on the stage floor. I wondered if this was a new bit the cast had choreographed before my arrival. Apparently not though, as our "Riff Raff" stepped out of character and stooped. "Hey, Elsie, what's..? - God! She's fainted!"

Jason, now in full "Frank" drag, scuttered to center stage and bleated, "Dad?"

One of the "old people near the exit door" was already out of his seat and on his way to the stage. He climbed up, bent over Elsie, then fished in his pocket for his car keys. "My bag is in the trunk." He looked over at his son who tottered in sequined high heels and blinked blue shadowed lids with furry false lashes. The dad physician looked around to locate the most decently-dressed cast member which was me and held out his keys. "In the trunk of the black Impala."

"Yes, sir!" I snatched the keys, jumped off the stage and dashed away on my errand. By the time I returned with the bag, the movie had been halted, the screen was blank, all the house lights were on, Nick was crying, and the physician just waved me away, sadly.

"Nothing I can do."

I put down the bag and it clanked. "Just from fainting?"

"Just from a bullet in the chest."

Amanda held up her cell phone. "I've already called 911."

I pulled off my Marilyn wig. Show over.

When Lieutenant Washington, of N.O.P.D. , Homicide, arrived with his officers, we still had our audience. If the members of the card club had wanted to flee, there could have been no stopping them. But they were either law-abiding enough or curious enough to remain in their seats in the front rows.

The lieutenant didn't spend much time on the corpse but turned to the live attendees. "Where were all of you when this happened?"

"The entire cast was on-stage," I volunteered. "Doing the 'Time Warp Dance' except Jason, who was in the wings, waiting to enter as 'Frank'."

He nodded. "This girl wasn't shot from on-stage. Or from the wings. Is everyone in the audience still present?"

"There was one dude way in the back," Nick pointed. "His seat is empty now."

"The members of the card club were all together," I said. " And Jason's parents, Dr. and Mrs. Harris, sat together."

"Most likely, we're looking for the loner." Lt. Washington took the steps down into the audience and examined the seat indicated.

"At first glance, it looks like the shooter sat in the rear while the rest of the audience was toward the front and focusing on the stage. He used this chair cushion to muffle the shot."

He held up the cushion and wiggled his finger in a little black hole that shouldn't have been there.

"But who was he?" William asked. "And why would he kill Elsie?"

"Maybe a contract killer," Kristie offered. "And there's only one person in the show who can afford one." She pointed a tap shoe at me. "It had to be Margo."

"Me?" I fairly squawked. "Why on earth would I?"

"You wanted to be 'Magenta'. I know you did."

"That's ridiculous. Who would kill for a part in this cast?"

"I'd kill to be 'Columbia'. - If I wasn't already."

Teri grabbed the lieutenant's sleeve. "I bet Nick had one of his biker buddies kill her. He was jealous because she loved Jason now."

"She didn't love Jason," Nick protested. "She loved 'Frank 'N' Furter'."

Lieutenant Washington dropped the cushion back in the chair. "Now which of you is the manager?"

"None of us." Amanda looked around. "Luke is the manager; he's supposed to be at the counter, out-front."

"He's not there now."

"We never saw him either," said a polka-dotted lady from the card club. "There was no one in the lobby to take our tickets."

The policemen stepped out to the lobby and several of us on-lookers trailed after them to stand around the empty counter.

"Maybe he left early," Amanda said. "He knew he wasn't likely to sell any more tickets tonight."

"Too bad. If he'd been on the job, he'd have seen the murderer."

"Wait a minute." Amanda checked behind the counter. "If Luke just left early, then how come he didn't cash out the register?"

"So, he must still be somewhere on the premises." The lieutenant turned to his officers. "Duffy and Harter, go have a look around."

It was Officer Duffy who opened the utility closet. He just stood there for a moment then said, "Lieutenant? You'd better come look at this."

Luke, in the worst of conditions, lay between two large garbage cans, staring sightlessly at a damp mop.

Lt. Washington stood with his arms folded. "So the shooter could have run out of the theater, seen your manager standing at the register and killed the witness, then dragged him in here."

Jason's dad hastened over to the exhibit, spent only a moment examining Luke, then looked up, shaking his head. "No, Lieutenant. This man has been dead nearly an hour. Longer than the poor girl inside."

"Then I got it backward. The shooter didn't plan to kill Elsie then hit Luke on his way out, to eliminate a witness. It seems the manager was his original target. Elsie's murder was the after-thought."

"He must have really hated her, though," I said. "To risk hanging around so long when he could have just split after doing Luke."

"Sensitively put."

By ten the next morning, I was down at the police station pursuing my day job as "girl journalist" and ran into Officer Duffy on the front steps.

"Any progress with the Art House case?"

"Not yet," Duffy shrugged. "The lieutenant is up there now grilling the most likely suspect."

"Who is that?"

"None other than the victim's faithless ex-boyfriend, Kurt Hindley. But Hindley has a solid alibi. His mother swears he spent the evening with her, watching 'The Postman Only Rings Twice' on cable. Lana Turner and John Garfield."

"How solid an alibi is that? He could have seen that old movie any time."

"And no mother would ever lie to protect her son. Right. But the ma places him at home and no one else can place him anywhere else. Besides, Hindley had no reason in the world to hang around and kill that girl, Elsie. She lived in Baton Rouge, and it appears they'd never even met." Duffy pointed with his chin. "Oh, the lieutenant must have finished with the guy. Here he comes now."

It was a familiar-looking short man who came striding down the steps at that moment. He spotted me then just froze in place with his eyes wide.

"Say!" I piped up. "I remember you. You were arguing with Luke the night he was.." Then I stopped. Duffy sprang forward, grabbed Hindley's arm and turned him around.

"I think we'll go back upstairs for another interview."

Later that afternoon, Lt. Washington briefed me over a cup of coffee at the Café du Monde.

"Well, we got our confession. Hindley admitted that he had spent a lot of time around the theater in the past year and knew the Rocky Horror Show. He murdered his ex-lover, Luke, because he had been ordered out of their home."

"Which had a hot tub."

"With Jacuzzi jets as I understand it. - Then Hindley sat in the back row, muffled his revolver with a cushion, and waited till the end of the 'Time Warp Dance'. He took aim and shot at Elsie just as she was supposed to fall down as part of the act. By the time the rest of you realized something was wrong, he was out the door."

I shook some powdered sugar off a biegnet. "I can see why Hindley was angry with Luke. But he didn't even know Elsie."

"That's right, Margo. He killed her because he thought she was you."


"Well, the woman who walked by while he was arguing with Luke. The only witness who could place him at the murder scene." He sipped his coffee and chicory. "Hindley saw one redhead pass him in the lobby, and one redhead walk out on-stage. Naturally, he assumed they were the same person." He frowned. "A fatal mistake for himself and for that poor girl. - So there's your inside story, Margo."

"Thank you. My editor will be very happy."

He drained his cup. "I've got to get back to my desk. We had three drug-related homicides last night. What's up next for you?"

"I'm going to be playing 'Magenta'. -- Without a wig."

© 2002 Tony Fennelly