Roaring Pageant Murders: Part One
A scream pierced through the bustling of the pageant. I recognized the scream of my twin sister and shot off the chair to run to her—my stylist’s fingers pulled on my hair, and she stumbled with me until they were untangled.
“Moira! Be careful!” she called out to me. I ignored her.
People stood in shock in the hallway as another scream tore through backstage. Heads popped out of dressing rooms as I ran past them, desperate to get to my other half.
I turned around the corner, and a body collided with me. I recognized the blonde hair and violet and lavender scent of my sister’s newest, favorite fragrant, and I wrapped my arms around her tight.
“Marie, what is it?” I asked.
She cried into my shoulder. “There’s blood everywhere!”
Blood? I pushed her back and pulled her head up to look me in the eye.
“Where?” I asked. Several others had surrounded us, all of us most likely curious and worried about the thought of enough blood to make my sister, a nursing student, hysterical.
“In,” she hiccupped, “In my dressing room.”
Already set in protection mode, I grabbed my sister’s hand and took off to the end of the hall to her shared room. The sound of footsteps behind me encouraged me to stand straight and not cower under the fear of what I would see. It was not a world where women could show weakness—the vultures would eat us alive, especially in my line of work.
As a student of investigative journaling, I was used to putting on a brave face and looked fear head-on. I wanted to focus on corrupt politicians, but with that, dead bodies were not uncommon. And if there was a lot of blood, that could only mean one thing; there was a dead body in, or near, my sister’s dressing room.
The door was wide open and gave us a perfect look into the room. Blood splattered across the walls of the dressing room. The body of one contestant lay on the floor. A pool of blood seeped from underneath her and glittered in the room’s lighting.
The blood and gloomy atmosphere of the murdered girl tainted the once beautifully done dressing room in gold, pastel pink, and floral décor.
It felt like a rock was stuck in my throat, but I swallowed it down to speak. “Someone call the authorities.”
I hadn’t left the room since we found the body of Marie’s roommate. The shrill sound of my sister’s screams still echoed in my head. It overpowered the whispers and cries of everyone around us that were clustered in the hall.
Everyone wanted a peek at the girl, and I did my best to keep everyone out of the room and console my sister as she wept quietly in my arms. She had told me numerous times of the cadavers she saw in class, but never had they been someone she knew—or in such a horrific, bloody state.
I hadn’t either. All the classes I took and the bodies we discussed were hypothetical or still photos; they were not fresh and in person. I would view this as part of my training. To be professional in the field, I must act the same in a real-life scenario. It didn’t matter that I knew her or talked to her hours ago. This was now a murder case, and I was getting an inside scoop on the whole thing.
“Get back!” A deep shout boomed through the hallway. “If you’re not a pageant contestant, a witness, or family of the deceased, you need to vacate the premises immediately!”
More shouts came from the hallway as people, mostly reporters, protested having to leave. Their outrage didn’t last long as more police showed up and made them disperse.
“All the bystanders are gone, Chief,” a uniformed man said as he stood in front of his commanding officer.
“Good. Next time, don’t let the rookies manage the crowd,” he boomed. The Chief turned around and entered the room. His gaze surveyed every inch of space until he landed on us. He was gorgeous and must have been close to his thirties if he wasn’t already. He had hair that was deep brown and seemed to shimmer in the light with green, misty-colored eyes and light brown, tanned-toned skin. His face softened as he walked over to us. “Which of you is Ms. Hatcher?” he asked in a gentle tone.
“We both are,” I responded as my sister lifted her gaze. “But if you’re looking for the one who found the body, that’s my sister, Marie.”
He nodded. As he looked between the two of us, realization crossed his face when he concluded we were twins. We had looked alike since birth. There wasn’t any difference except our personalities if you paid close enough attention.
Marie and I had platinum blonde hair cut in a bobbed style with hazel eyes and cream-colored skin. When we looked at each other, it was like looking into a mirror. Our parents were well off and drilled into us we needed to make a decent living if we wanted to survive financially in this world. That didn’t stop the two of us from living our lives or taking in the world of pageants to make us more elegant.
Our parent’s friends called us “wild” because they wanted us to help change the world and go against the proper etiquette of a woman’s place. Our father always told us that women were to be in charge of the home, bear children, and ensure everything was as it should be, but he wanted to help change that—to be part of the cause that changed the view of women for the future. It gained him a lot of enemies, but he faced those who opposed it with a look of finality.
Marie had already found love, though I don’t think she realized it. Her boyfriend, Charles Eldridge, was a fine suitor our parents approved of. It was obvious they were in love, even if Marie swore they hadn’t said it to each other. I could tell Charles adored her by the way he bought her flowers every week, always different, never the same, and how he made sure he took her dinner before or after whatever adventure he had put together for them.
Neither of us could wait to settle down and start having babies. Don’t get me wrong. There were aspects of the unmarried life to love. We lived wild and free, with no one to consider but ourselves. But there was something about being with the one you love and having children that fascinated us.
Our differences, though? Marie wanted to be a nurse and worked hard in her studies. Many thought she was crazy to go as far as being a doctor, one other than a birthing doctor. But that was what I loved about her; her free spirit had no limits, much like mine. I wanted to be an investigative journalist. It was rare for a female to be a reporter, but I would if I had to go under a male alias. I would do whatever it took.
“And what is your name?” The Chief asked. He brought my attention back to the situation at hand.
“Moira,” he mumbled as he wrote my name down on his pad of paper. He looked back at the two of us. “My name is Officer Rhoades; I’m the Chief of Police here in town. I’m sorry you had to witness the victim as you did.”
“I had just been talking to her,” Marie whispered as she stood up straight and wiped the tears off her cheeks. “Not even ten minutes before I walked into the room, we had been discussing the beauty pageant. She was so excited about it. She wanted nothing more than to win and get her chance at being in the movie.” Tears continued to travel down my sister’s face, but she wiped them away.
“Did you see anyone other than Ms. Goldstein enter or leave the room?”
“No. I was talking to another girl down the hallway.” Marie replied as she stepped closer to me.
“Have you talked to another officer already?”
Marie nodded, “Yes, he’s over there,” she pointed across the room. “He’s talking to another witness.”
“Then I won’t keep you ladies any longer. If you remember anything, anything at all, give me a call or stop by the station anytime.” Officer Rhodes reached into his lapel and extended his hand to me. “Here’s my card.”
I took the card from his hand, and my finger lightly grazed his. Our gazes locked. “I will.”
I pulled Marie from the room. Call it twin-whatever, but I knew she did not need to witness any more than she already had. They were almost friends, and if that had been someone I knew, I would not want to see them like that anymore. We followed the never-ending halls in the lavish hotel to the elevators. I pulled the gate shut, and neither of us spoke as we rode down to the first-floor lobby.
“There you are!” Marie and I had not taken over two steps through the doors before we heard the gay voice of our sponsor. Adeline was always so happy when it came to pageants. She had sponsored my sister and me since our parents entered us in our first one when we were six. She was like a second mother and always attended our family dinners.
Adeline was lovely to look at. She had raven black hair braided into a bun, piercing blue eyes, and pale skin. Wrinkles formed on her face and revealed her true age. Her first husband had died only months after they married. Her second left once they found out Adeline was barren. She was more devastated when she discovered she would never bear children than when her husband left her. I think she was thankful for my mother, who let her into our lives and asked her to sponsor us. She treated us like her own daughters when she watched us.
“The pageant is still on!” she announced.
This news baffled me. “How? Does a woman being murdered mean nothing to the judges?”
“Don’t be upset, my darling!” she cooed and rushed to pull us into her embrace. “The judges believe the tragedy has nothing to do with the pageant and more with the young lady’s personal life. The pageant will go on; it’s what she would have wanted.”
“She’s right,” Marie spoke up. Her eyes were puffy and red, but that didn’t stop her, and she stood up straight. “She would have wanted us to continue. The show mustn’t stop for anything. That’s what she always said, anyway.”
“Excellent!” Adeline cheered. “Let’s get you cleaned up, young lady.” She spoke as she cleared a few missed tears from Marie’s face.
“I don’t know about this,” I spoke up. I had a gut feeling something wasn’t right. I second-guessed my choice to join the pageant, to begin with.
Marie walked closer to me and pulled me into a hug. “This is our time, Moira.” She spoke gently as she looked me in the eyes. “We can’t let this stop our lives. We need to win this so you can become a famous reporter and writer. You want to do it all because you can do it all, and I’m so proud of your accomplishments already. And I need the money to show everyone I can do the impossible for women. It’s tragic, yes. It was horrible discovering her like that, but we can’t let it stop us from living and doing what we were born to do.”
I smiled slightly. “You’re right.” I took a deep breath to calm my nerves before continuing. “We both need this; we’re going to win.”
“There are my girls!” Adeline cheered as she ushered us into our dressing rooms.