I wasn’t sure what I had been expecting in the studio—perhaps walls of green screen, or a bunch of flimsy wooden sets—but I most certainly had not expected…this. I stopped in my tracks as we entered the vast space, and Edmund knocked into me from behind.
“Oh, sorry—wait, what’s wrong?” Edmund leaned around my stilled figure before I could stop him. “What’s that thing? Is it a mannequin?” He stepped around me and approached it. I did another mental face palm. Oh my God, Oliver, of course it’s a mannequin, because honestly, what are the chances that—
“Oliver! It’s a dead body!”
I blinked, drawn out of my paralysis. Edmund had backed into me, hand over his mouth. A dead body lay prone on the floor in front of us, fresh blood slowly spreading out around it like a silken scarlet scarf. It lay spread-eagled—a broken rag doll tossed among the props and cameras.
Edmund’s yell had attracted some of the mysterious and usually invisible guards who patrolled the halls, and who were now surrounding the body like a murder of crows, phones pressed to their ears.
Through my coat, I could feel Edmund shaking slightly, but I couldn’t feel shocked or frightened. Instead, I was consumed by an insatiable curiosity. Whoa, man, insatiable? Watch that vocab go.
“Could you see who it was?” I’ve always been fascinated by dead bodies—not in a ‘I’m a future serial killer keep me away from your children’ way, but a horrified enthrallment, like when there was a particularly large spider on the wall, and, as much as I hated them, I couldn’t stop myself getting close to it and watching its hairy legs flex and twitch.
I did so now, shaking free of Edmund and approaching the body cautiously, dodging people already beginning to flock. He called after me, voice shaky.
“Oliver! No, don’t go any closer, it’s horrible.”
“I’m fine, Edmund, I just want to look.” Its face was still away from me, so I turned it with my boot when no one was looking.
It was Marie-Ann.
My heart leapt into my throat and I felt my airways constrict. I barely registered Edmund grabbing my elbow and dragging me outside. Yes, I’d disliked Marie-Ann intensely, but I hadn’t wanted her to die. Now I was shaking too, the image of her pale, clammy face swimming before my eyes like a scarlet-lipped ghost.
“Oliver?” Edmund’s hands were gripping my arms, green eyes gazing into mine. He was pale too—not every day you saw the body of someone you knew. I backed us against the wall to let the crowds rush past, securing us in our own little bubble.
“I’m okay, I’m fine, I’m fine. You?” I wasn’t, but Edmund didn’t need to know that. Curse your insatiable curiosity.
“Right.” He hadn’t let go of my arms, so I took the opportunity to lean against him.
Before Edmund could react, a wobbling gecko waddled into view, crowd parting around him, puffing hard and red in the face. Jackson doubled over when he reached us, hands on his knees. Someone handed him water. He swigged at it before speaking.
“Word is…word in the studio…broke up with your girlfriend…she’s dead?”
“Yeah. She is.”
Edmund butted in. “Yes, she was.”
Jackson was nodding. “Oh, perfect, that’s wonderful—”
“What? Oh come on, Oliver, you hated her too. This is brilliant publicity! I’m going to go call the press.” He waddled away. Edmund and I watched him go to a soundtrack of sirens. I turned when he was out of sight, heading for my dressing room. Facing away from Edmund gave me the opportunity to let my face crease into a mask of horror. I got some strange looks, but ignored them. Edmund had to jog to keep up with me.
“Oliver, where are you going? Please don’t leave me here; I don’t know where we are or what to do.”
“Just come with me.” I put my sunglasses on, which hid my eyes and made me look cooler.
“But Marie-Ann’s murderer is still here, the police are probably evacuating the building now.”
I ignored him. “In here.” My dressing room door swung open, admitting us both inside. Edmund stood awkwardly in the middle of the floor.
“I think we should sort some stuff out.”
“Yes.” I began to pour myself a glass of vodka, but gave up and took the bottle instead.
“Oliver, it’s ten o’clock in the morning.”
“My girlfriend was just stabbed.” I swung myself onto the couch and lay with my head on the arm, bottle tilting dangerously from my hand.
“Details.” I took a swig. It was disgusting, but it was more effort to get up and put it back now. “So, what were you saying about sorting stuff out? I feel more ready now.”
Edmund perched on the arm where my feet rested. “First of all, why am I here?”
“To be my co-star.”
“Yes, but why?”
“Gecko liked the gay scandal publicity. Made him a rich man.” Took another swig. “Me as well, for that matter.”
Edmund was fiddling with the loose threads on the bottom of his shirt. It was only then I realised that he was wearing the same one he’d had on two months ago, albeit slightly more worn looking. It was red. I liked it. “So who do you think killed Marie-Ann?”
“No wait, I do have an idea. Aliens.” Maybe there was a reason vodka was supposed to be diluted with water. “So, Edmund psychologist, any other questions?”
“Uh…one.” His eyes found mine. Wait, when did Edmund have four eyes? Wow, this stuff works quickly. I need to get some more of this.
Edmund’s jaw clenched, unclenched, and he eventually opened his mouth to speak, only to be interrupted by the opening door.
“Mr Smith, Mr Nightingale, we need you in your cars now please.” A messenger stood awkwardly in the doorway, hand pressed to the plastic coil around his ear.
I waved my wine bottle at him. “Go away, can’t you see that Fort Knox is about to open up?”
Edmund stood, almost overbalancing in his haste. “No, I think we should go. Come on Oliver, and put that wine down, you’ve had enough.” He pried it from my fingers and grabbed my hand, pulling me to my feet. The room spun.
“Edmund, you’re making me dizzy.”
“No, that’s called you being drunk.” He supported me as we followed the messenger. “It’s also called being sad that the ex-girlfriend you hated just died, which is called insanity.”
“Nup.” We were outside suddenly. I hadn’t registered the transition.
“Come on, get in.”
Ooh, a limo. I leant against Edmund’s side as the engine revved. When did we get in here? I decided to go with the flow. “Deja vu. Except hopefully with a different ending this time.”
“Oliver, stop speaking, you’re making me feel drunk too.”
I ignored Edmund again and instead signalled the driver. “Where are we going?”
He didn’t turn around, focused on the road. The back of his hat appeared to speak. I sniggered as it intoned, “Your place, then his place.”
Edmund’s legs made a lovely headrest, so I lay down on him. “That won’t be necessary, driver. Just my place.”
I pretended to fall conveniently unconscious for the rest of the journey, planning to address the problem of a dead girlfriend and a potential murderer later. For now, Edmund.