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IN THE KEY OF DEATH

By Robert S. Levinson

PROLOGUE

There had been times Josh Wainwright woke to the birds gossiping in the light of early morning, stretched out on the manicured lawn alongside Katie's grave at Westwood Memorial Park, on the plot he had purchased for himself. Uncertain where he was. Exploding into tears when he spied her grave marker.

 

He had the visits under control now, down to maybe a couple times a month and, of course, the anniversary of her death, or days where he had the need to share news and couldn't wait for one of those nights where Katie came to him in his sleep.

 

To listen.

 

Comment.

 

Caution.

 

Encourage.

 

Never one to hold back on an opinion, not his precious Katie.

 

It had been a while since the last visit—Katie concerned about the kids, how he was coping with Justin's increasing rebelliousness, Julie's unpredictable mood swings—but the nightmare of her murder was ever present, playing out like film noir, a mystery in black and white that ended too soon, before the killer was revealed in the final reel.

 

Josh's movie always opened outside the palace-like Pantages Theater, steps away from the storied intersection of Hollywood and Vine, of course.

 

Giant klieg lights rotating in the night sky.

 

A  marquee proclaiming:

 

TONIGHT! 22ND ANNUAL L'CHAIM

'FUND FOR THE NEEDY' TELETHON

 

Inside the art deco masterpiece built in the nineteen thirties, two thousand people applaud Jon Voight and Edward James Olmos as they finish reminding television viewers that all monies raised will support more than nine hundred non-sectarian enterprises throughout the world. Drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers. Day schools and summer camps that provide scholarships for underprivileged children. Special housing for low-income families. Programs for immigrants and seniors.

 

Rabbi Hesh Adler dances out to join them center stage, sends them off with a hug and a mazel tov and brings on James Caan to introduce the next guest.

 

"She is everyone's favorite entertainer, but you know that already" Caan tells the world. "She spends most of her time nowadays staying home to raise her two wonderful children, but she jumped at Reb Hesh's invitation to join us tonight with her family and help us to achieve our goal of twenty-five million dollars. Ladies, gentlemen, everybody in-between—"The obligatory drum roll, leading into her Academy Award-winning theme song, "Tell Me What Keeps You Alive"—"Give it up, a hot Hollywood welcome for my dear friend and, need I say, the one and only Miss Katie Sunshine!"

 

Katie, offstage with Josh, Justin and Julie, takes a last swipe at her hair, takes his usual Break a Leg kiss, takes a megaton breath, locks hands with the kids, and troops out with them.

 

Josh brings up the rear and falls in alongside her while Katie is accepting the warmth of the audience and settling on her mark center stage.

 

Justin and Julie fidget, their memories twirling over lines they've been rehearsing for two weeks. When it's their turn, they're letter-perfect.

 

Now, it's Josh's turn to recite his lines, only—

 

Stage fright.

 

He's drawing a blank.

 

Panic sets in.

 

Early in his career with LAPD, being a beat cop walking the dark and dangerous killing streets of South Central was easier than this.

 

How'd he ever let her talk him into it?

 

Katie taps his shoulder and points to the teleprompter mounted above the TV camera, but his attention has been diverted by a person at the back of the house who's moved from a seat to the aisle and, it appears, into a shooter's stance. 

 

Josh can't be certain.

 

He's blinded by the stage spots.

 

He squints and shades his eyes with a hand as Katie leans forward and good-naturedly shouts directions to the teleprompter over the laughter of the audience.

 

Katie hardly has the words out when her body jerks away from Josh and rains blood on him and on Julie.

 

The laughter has obscured the sound of a gun being fired.

 

A second shot flies by him and smashes into Katie.

 

Josh screams at stage hands to get his children out of harm's way and sinks to his knees by Katie, testing her for a pulse, but what he sees is enough to tell him the worst.

 

The people in the audience panic.

 

They flee the theater, bodies crashing against bodies in a unanimous rush for the exits, and with them the shooter—

 

In Josh's nightmarish film noir—

 

A faithful recreation of what happened two and a half years ago—

 

When Clyde Davenport murdered his wife.

 

Someday he would have the evidence to prove it, but—

 

Not yet.

 

Not  now.

 

For now, that son of a bitch Davenport was still free.

 

The final reel of Josh's movie yet to splash onto the silver screen.

 

The ending unknown.

 

Even to Josh.


 

 

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