“ ‘Morning Diane. The time sheets are on your desk. There’re bagels in the break room. And there’s a dead body in Orchestra F.”
Diane dropped her purse on her desk. “Really? A dead body” Her voice rose, like she’d just won a prize.
Patricia shrugged off her uniform jacket and grabbed her car keys as she headed for the door. “Thought you’d be more excited about the bagels,” she said.
“They’re not New York bagels.”
“You New Yorkers are snobs.”
“About bagels? Guilty.”
Diane was on Year Three of living in Las Vegas. She’d adjusted to the heat, the traffic, and the fact that you could gamble everywhere from convenience stores to the airport. But lousy bagels? That she still found hard to endure.
“Also, you have to fire Luke,” said Patricia.
“Aw, seriously? I thought you were going to do it.”
“And I thought you were going to work last night’s graveyard for me.”
Diane followed her colleague into the hall. “I figured you’d like K-pop.”
“I can’t even spell K-pop. Do the paperwork on the body – looks like a trampling in the mosh pit.” Diane referred to the wide-open space in front of the stage where the superfans were allowed to pack in. “And fire Luke. He’s not cut out for security work. Have a good shift.” The heavy metal door slammed shut and Diane was alone in the hall.
Red Rock Arena was quiet this morning, post-concert. A significant shift from a few hours ago when the building had been packed with Dreamers, superfans of K-pop sensation SweetDreams. Confetti and solo cups still littered the building and parking lot. The cleaning crew obviously couldn’t go in until Metro secured the crime scene. Hence, the bagels to keep them busy while they waited out the delay.
Diane walked towards the break room, but her feet slowed as she approached the door. She looked over her shoulder, out the window. She could see the traffic out on I-15, inching along. Big accident up by Tropicana Blvd., she’d see it on the way in. Might be an hour before CSI got here…
Spinning on her heels, Diane sprinted for the far door that led to the arena. She couldn’t help going in for a quick look.
Twenty years as a reporter on the cops and courts beat will do that to you. Diane had gotten her job specifically because she could handle the sight of a dead body. On her first day as a reporter, a cranky, old-timer desk editor had sent her out to cover a car accident with multiple fatalities as a hazing stunt. When she’d come back that evening with a great story and a clear case of endorphins, she’d been assigned the cops beat permanently.
Frank and the kids got used to Diane’s taste for mayhem. They knew better than to ask her how her day was unless they wanted to hear about the headless boy found in a topless bar. They accepted that somehow this energized her.
So, they should have been more sympathetic when she found early retirement and the move from New York to Las Vegas a nightmare.
“Play golf. Play bridge. Sit by the pool,” said Frank, who slid easily into the laid-back desert lifestyle.
“And do what? Wait to die?” answered Diane.
“Fine. So, get a job pole dancing and quit hocking me.”
So that’s what she did. Well, not pole dancing. But she could see the Strip casinos from her desk in the security office. In Las Vegas, there were only two lines of work open to women over 50. And Diane was done making beds and picking up towels off the bathroom floor. She liked security work, even if it was 90% customer service and 10% standing around.
And today, a dead body in Orchestra F! Diane took the downward steps at a jaunty skip.
The floor of the arena was still a mess, with the cleaning crew breakfasting upstairs. Seats had been removed to accommodate the dancing mob of Dreamers, so Orchestra F was just spray-painted mark on the concrete floor, squared off by yellow crime scene tape tied to folding chairs. And in the center, not covered, not touched at all since its discovery after the last of the Dreamers had stumbled into the dawn, the body.
Diane crouched down to get a closer look. She was young. Like can-I-see-some-ID young. She had long blonde hair with streaks of glitter. Her pink-and-purple SweetDream concert tee shirt was torn and hanging off her midriff in ragged strips. Her black shorts were intact, but covered in the debris and detritus of a concert venue floor. She had on one shoe – a gold glittered Converse high top.
“She got stomped hard.” It was Luke, the beefy, bespeckled son of the facilities manager who gotten the kid a security job in hopes of keeping him from pursuing his desired career as a video gamer. Luke was, by all measurements, a terrible security guard. He’d dozed through training. He showed up late and left early. His primary efforts seemed focused on living down to his father’s expectations.
“Maybe,” Diane replied, circling the body again.
“What do you mean, maybe? The crowd last night was intense," Luke said. “I’m not surprised they didn’t notice a body under their feet.”
Diane wasn’t either. She’d seen plenty of audiences work themselves into that kind of frenzy. She’d watched this particular fan group lining up outside the arena 24-hours before showtime. She’d endured the breathless coverage of local TV news reporters who acted more like boosters than journalists. All week, all Vegas could talk about was the arrival of K-pop and its trademark sasaengs – obsessive fans. Even the New York Times music critic, flown in for the event, wrote as if this was some kind of novel emotional reaction. Hello? The Beatles?
But there was something funny about this body. She was on her side – an odd angle for trampling, Diane thought. Usually, stampede vics were flat, face up or down. And for a girl who’d been trampled, there wasn’t much blood. Or bruising. Diane looked close at the clothing again, especially under the darkest part of the tee-shirt. Footprints, yes. But when she peered in to see just under torn textile, she couldn’t make out corresponding footprint bruises. Did dead bodies bruise or did you have to still be alive for a footprint to leave that telltale mark? Diane asked half a dozen law enforcement professionals that question over the years and never got a straight answer. Apparently, sometimes yes and sometimes no.
She eyed this body: Was it yes or no, this time?
Luke stood a few feet back from the tape. “I was here when they found her,” he said proudly, as if reporting the catch of a really big fish. “I helped them find chairs for the tape.”
Diane dropped from her crouch onto the concrete floor, putting her level with the girl’s wide-open eyes. Brown. No, hazel. “If you worked the graveyard, why are you still here?” she asked Luke, without turning her head up to his direction.
She heard his feet shuffle a bit in the confetti streamers. “Well, I guess it seemed cool.”
Diane smiled a bit at that. Yeah, kind of.
Then she saw it: Around the corners of the girl’s mouth. It looked like blisters. Or burns. That doesn’t happen in a mosh bit.
But it does happen when you’re poisoned.
Diane pushed back on her heels and looked around the arena. It’d be the perfect crime, she thought. Bring the victim to the concert, poison her, and then dump her body in the mosh bit. Diane surveyed the garbage all around her. It’s not like they’d get any kind of usable evidence from this trash heap
And Red Rock wouldn’t be all that inclined to help. It’s never good for business when a concert ends and there’s a dead body in Orchestra F. Everyone involved would be motivated to quickly declare this a tragic accident.
Diane stood but didn’t take her eyes off the girl. If that happened, her murderer would have successfully disappeared into the K-pop hype.
Behind her, Diane could see the tall metal doors of the arena, now propped open, letting in the blazing Vegas sunshine. Just outside, the TV crews were setting up. The New York Times fellow was probably already on a plane home. But here, there would some next-day features about the size of the crown, the traffic jam after the concert, and the financial windfall to the city. That’s what would make the noon news. The cops would keep information about the body under wraps until late in the day, 4 or 5 pm. Enough time to get officials from Red Rock to convey their thoughts and prayers. But not enough time for any of these Hollywood wannabes to track down a real story.
And a murderer would walk free in Las Vegas – for better or for worse, Diane’s adopted city. Maybe the murderer was nearby right now, getting a drink at Caesar’s, congratulating himself for his clever work. Maybe he was renting a car. Buying an airplane ticket. Getting ready to make a clean getaway. And no one would know to stop him.
Diane shrugged off her security jacket and handed it to Luke. “Wait here.” She turned and headed for the open door.
“Hold on, what am I supposed to do here?” Luke called after her.
Diane turned back and met the young man’s eyes. “Watch over her until the cops come,” she said. Then she added, “You can do it. I know you can.”
Luke seemed to straighten up as she said it. He gave Diane a deliberate nod.
Stepping into the rising desert heat, Diane squinted and looked around. Red and blue flashing lights were visible in the far parking lot. Metro had arrived. That didn’t leave her much time.
Diane surveyed the collection of reporters, setting up for their shots. They all looked so young, like kids with high-end Erector sets.
The one nearest her didn’t have a camera operator along. She was setting up her own equipment, managing her gear and her notes. Instead of teased and coiffed hair, hers was back in a ponytail.
Diane approached. The reporter kept at her work and gave Diane a quick and not entirely friendly glance. “Can I help you?”
“How’d you like to make that New York Times reporter spit his coffee through his nose?”
Now the reporter straightened and met Diane’s eyes. “I’m listening.”
Diane gave her a smile. “Have I got a story for you.”