Roaring Pageant Murders: Part Two
Roaring jazz music flowed from the record player in our dressing room. With my sister’s room out of commission, she moved in with my partner and me. She was out mingling, so it was nice to share the room and the moment alone with my twin. Marie and I looked exquisite as we posed in front of the oversized floor mirror. Our outfits were carefully chosen for this portion of the competition.
Marie’s dress was blood red with sheer fabric and a corset of the same color underneath. Black sequins in a repeating diamond style were paired with roses adorning the bottom as a makeshift belt. The bottom half of her dress was a short black leather that went above mid-thigh but had fringe spiraling down from under the roses to right below her knee. Her headpiece was a stretch fabric with sequence covering the entire thing, and a black rose settled on the left side, covering her ear with beaded chains flowing down to her shoulders. The cigarette holder, black feather boa, and black heels completed her pageant outfit. It was risqué and, to our agreement, was the perfect dress for her.
My outfit was more formal, rather than party-ready, and completely black. The top half was low-cut and sequenced. The only pop of color was the gold sequence which adorned the outline of my dress in a V-neck down to my belly, where it spread out in four lines around my waist for a makeshift belt. The bottom half was in three layers of frayed string and went to mid-thigh. The fishnet stockings covered my legs, the black heels covered my feet, and I had chosen black, elbow-length gloves, a gold, layered, beaded necklace with my black feather boa, and a cigarette holder. My headpiece was sequenced with a black feather sticking up instead of a rose like my sister’s.
I was shocked that the pageant was still on. A girl had been murdered, and all they did about it was add a few officers for extra security like that was supposed to reassure us. Regardless, we were prepared and ready for the competition to begin.
The two of us had shared almost everything since birth, and this pageant would be no different. If one of us won, we had agreed that Marie would get the prize money for her schooling to help our father, and I would get the movie end of it. The prospect of being signed by MGM or Paramount, and working with Gary Cooper, John Barrymore, or even Charlie Chaplin, would be a dream! It wasn’t that I wanted to be some famous silent film star, but I wanted to make a name for myself. It was a necessary thing to do if I wanted people to read my work, so really, I didn’t need the money. On the other hand, medical school was expensive for a woman, and Marie needed that money for classes to help our father with the extra he forked out to ensure his daughter’s place in her class. This was our chance to get our names out there in a big city.
When the pageant started, the girls would walk out in pairs of two, and, thanks to Adeline, who screamed at the employees who made the pair lists, Marie and I would walk down as a pair. We utilized being twins to our advantage. Judges were more likely to look at and take notice of us when we walked out together. Seeing two of the same people usually made them look twice because it shocked and intrigued them.
“Are you ready?” Marie asked me.
I smiled back at her. “Born ready.”
The band began playing, and Marie and I waited as we grabbed each other’s hands in excitement and encouragement. An indescribable connection made it easy to know what the other was saying without words. A silent good luck was all we needed before we ran to our spots in line and giddily waited for our turn to come around.
Names were slowly called out in twos as the other female contestants showed off to the judges. Cheers came from the audience to support friends or family members or hope to influence the judges’ decisions.
“Moira and Marie Elliot!”
As Marie and I strutted down the platform after our names were called, we couldn’t help but lavish ourselves on the audience’s cheers. The walk down was an overwhelming blur of adrenaline, mental chastising, shouts from the audience, and the flash pops of the paparazzi cameras. We took turns giving the judges a great view of our outfits and even did a sisterly pose for everyone before we made our way back behind the curtain.
My heart kept pounding as the announcer called the next set of names. Marie looked at me and beamed. “That was wild, Moira!”
I smiled at her. “It truly was. Come, let’s look for Adeline.”
We pushed through the crew and other contestants to get to the audience entrance, but it was like propelling through a field of cornstalks. But we navigated through the crowd and watched the opposite side of the stage.
“You ladies looked lovely!” Adeline cheered as we found her through the crowd.
“Lovely enough to win, I hope,” I muttered. The three of us watched the other contestants take turns on stage.
“You two had the loudest crowd reaction, if that gives you any more confidence,” Adeline stated matter-of-factly. She kept her eyes ahead as she raised to her tiptoes, trying to see every angle she could. It was almost comical.
As Marie and I waited for the pageant to wrap up, the reassurance was gratefully taken. We were eager for the judges to vote, not stand here watching our competition so they could eat away at our confidence at a torturous pace.
“Here we go. Girls, they’re ready!” Adeline said nervously.
The judges stood to give an announcement, I assumed to announce the winner, but a scream echoed throughout the room before they could. Startled, many rushed behind the curtains to see what had happened.
“Wait here. I’ll be back.” Adeline muttered as she ran to help. I took a step forward to go, but stopped myself.
Like us, the ones who stayed waited eagerly to know what happened. But as I spotted Officer Rhoades and his men running through the room to get backstage, I knew my suspicions were correct: another woman had been hurt, if not murdered.
Marie gasped and turned to me with a horrified expression, and I knew she figured it out too. Tears welled in her eyes, no doubt either upset about the death or reliving the scene from earlier; both wouldn’t be a surprise either. She was the reason I didn’t run back with Adeline. She was a lover and connected more with people, which was why she wanted to be a doctor; to help those who were hurting. A dead body couldn’t be helped, and I didn’t want to put her through more of that.
Murmurers that had rumbled through the crowd and were silenced like someone lifted a needle from a record player as one of the judges rushed from backstage. He was pale, and his eyes were wide as he stood in front of the audience. Next to him was the hotel manager, who whispered together quickly before the manager spoke up.
“The pageant has been postponed until later tonight. Another young lady’s life has been taken, and that is all we can say about the matter. Contestants, please return to your rooms, and let no one in unless you know them. This is not to be taken lightly, but do not fear. Stay in twos and threes, and for those who wish to stay for the results, you are welcome to stay in the dining room or come back later. Thank you all for your understanding and cooperation.”
The two men started to whisper to each other as they walked off the stage. The same could be said as everyone huddled together in small groups.
“Should we go back to the room or wait for Adeline?” I asked Marie. She reached into her bag and discreetly handed me a small knife. I didn’t know what was more of a shock, that she had it or that she was nonchalant about needing to hand it over without anyone having batted an eye. She always hated weapons when father would give them to us.
“You wait for Adeline. I’m going to search for Charles. I saw him in the audience earlier. Meet us back in our room.”
I grabbed her arm to stop her. “Are you sure splitting up is safe?” I asked.
She nodded and gave a reassuring smile. “Yes. We both have protection. I’ll be fine, I promise, and I know you will be too. Father didn’t teach us to defend ourselves for nothing.”
I nodded. I didn’t try to stop Marie because I knew how much her lover meant to her. She would be fine, I reassured myself.
“Just hurry,” I urged. Marie nodded and took off into the crowd.
I made my way backstage to search for Adeline. There wasn’t much she could do to help with a body, and I didn’t want her alone.
Adeline was nowhere to be found in the crowd. Worry crept over me, but I pushed it aside; Adeline wasn’t an idiot. Maybe she had returned to the room when she couldn’t find us.
I tapped my foot as I waited for the elevator’s snail-paced arrival and the lengthy climb to the tenth floor. The entire world moved in slow motion. I unlocked the door to our suite and walked in, making sure to lock it behind me since I knew Adeline had a key.
Voices came from the living room, and I sighed in relief when I recognized Marie and Charles. But as I walked down the hallway, their voices grew louder, and I realized they were arguing.
I was wary as I walked to the room. I had never heard the two of them talk badly about each other, let alone show any kind of anger or resentment. I didn’t want to interrupt their argument, but I was intrigued by what they could be arguing about.
I peeked into the room, and my eyes landed on Marie, who was stomping as she paced back and forth. She tapped her cigarette holder against her other hand, and I recognized her ticks, which told me that she was thinking about how to solve a problem.
Charles looked the opposite of my sister. He was cool and collected as he leaned against the back of the sofa. He looked pristine as usual, yet his dead, uncaring expression was out of character. Charles always looked happy, like he radiated light, warmth, and openness, but this version of him is what made me stop dead in my tracks from entering the room.
“I told you only the one!” Marie said angrily. “You have stopped the entire pageant! Harold will have to do major work to keep this under wraps and keep you from suspicion!”