VALENCIA NOIR II

ACT III

The heat of the day in the city of L.A. just wouldn’t let up as the hours continued to tick by. Each passing second was another degree seared into the minds, bodies and souls of the inhabitants with only the next second of misery to look forward to. But while such seasonal living conditions could be harsh, they couldn’t make the city stop running. It was simply a matter of muscling through, finding enough distractions, using mind over matter… Any of these techniques could be used to conquer the heat and keep the everyday life moving no matter what. And that’s exactly what Dexter and Tyler did. As the city continued to work like it did every day, so did they on their missing person cases. Their information on these people was limited so their investigating took them all over the city, following even the smallest of whispers holding names or most mundane of rumors concerning events. But despite their best efforts, countless interviews and investigating the various seedy scenes found in the underbelly of the city, the sleuths couldn’t find anything. One couldn’t even make a joke about these people becoming ghosts in order to disappear as they did. Because at least ghosts left behind stories and houses that become popular for tourists and small children’s dares…and of course there were places in the city where ghosts went to socialize. Regardless, there was nothing left for Dexter and Tyler to find that could tell them what happened to these people…

The end of the day was approaching and the angel and the werewolf had few leads left to pursue. And with their second appointment with Arazia Scavera approaching, the pair had to make it down to the opera house where they were expected to meet her. The heat was finally starting to let up as they followed the streets that topped the shoreline like a headband. The tourists were starting to pack up their beach supplies and ride back home with cars full of screaming kids demanding that they stay longer and that they weren’t tired-a familiar enough scene for the locals. But with the tourists going out, the real residents could finally come out and claim what was theirs after a day of hiding. Life in L.A. always seemed to pick up once the sun started to set and there was no time more apparent of that than during the summer. With the colors of the city beginning to solidify in the cooling breeze of the approaching evening after melting throughout the day, Tyler was finishing up some business with a local hot dog vender. “Thanks, pal.” With two fresh hot dogs piled on with toppings and condiments, he walked over to join Dexter as he stood out facing the ocean with a support rail under his raised foot. “Here you go. Actually found a vender who knew how to pile it on like they do at the ball parks. Yours is how they do it at Fenway.”

“A Fenway Frank?” The angel took his hot dog and had a bite. “…not the real thing but it’s pretty close. Thanks, Ty.”

“Thought you’d like it!” The werewolf started to eat his dog and stood next to his partner. The setting sun painted the ocean a warm spectrum of pleasant yellow and orange. “So how screwed do we look on these cases?”

“We’re not…quite to those stages yet…but our odds aren’t looking great at the moment.” He fished his notepad out of his back pants pocket and thumbed through the pages with his free hand as he ate. “All we know is that these people came from different sections of town and are various species. The ones that aren’t the typical ages for teenage runaways are middle aged people of various backgrounds. Some with drug problems, others own small businesses, a few with some offenses or martial problems… None of the friends or family recognize any of the others gone missing…there’s little next to nothing here that suggests these cases are connected.”

“Maybe we’re just jumping to conclusions by thinking that they’re all connected.” Tyler suggested. “People have gone missing before and not many of them had anything to do with the other.”

“Maybe…but I’m just fixated on a few things. A couple of these people went missing around the same time-the first of May. After that, it’s been pretty steady over the last few weeks based on the dates of when they went missing. It’s never people that would keep the police interested beyond the normal length of an investigation…always reported missing after going out at night and not coming back the next morning…”

“…it sounds like you got theories running already but we can’t work by theories alone. We need some hard facts.” The werewolf finished his hotdog and turned back to the street. “Come on. The opera house is at the end of the street. We’ll check pawn shops and jewelers for the necklace if we can’t find anything while we’re there. If we’re lucky, we can look for more leads on our cases while we check out the shops.”

“Yeah, you’re right…” Dexter knew that Tyler was right-theories without facts never helped solve anything. So the feeling that these cases were connected somehow was tucked away in the back of the angel’s mind until he could convince himself otherwise at a later time. He chomped away at the rest of his hotdog before following his partner down the street. Imitating the ocean, the people and the cars passed by on the streets in waves and the detectives bobbed along the surface towards their destination as they fought these figurative waves. The opera house sat on top of the hill at the end of the street and overlooked the coast with the bearing of a fortress, untouched by all and intimidating at a distance. But when studied up close, it was much more magnificent and welcoming.

The Ventrilo Opera House-one of the oldest buildings in Los Angeles-was a testimony to culture and art itself. It was a true descendant of the Garnier Opera House of Paris, raised on American soil and demonstrating the finest of traits and traditional designs from both worlds. The sculptures of the muses and the angels could still find a place to watch the sunset over the sea among the modern designs of the opera house and easily assisted with lowering the shadowy curtains of the approaching night down upon the marble columns and grand staircase of their home. Even the courtyard below was created with such attention to detail that could have made it a separate masterpiece if studied for its own merits. The plant life was tended to and sculpted as though they grew into such shapes naturally and chose to accent the building of their own free will. The tiles were laid down with such care to form intricate designs of the heavens as they formed the paths and the roads. The final touch was a colossal fountain of silver and gold-dead center of the court yard and the mosaic universe-that depicted the gods bathing and relaxing among the multiple levels and tears. Their lord Jupiter sat on the very top with a thoughtful gaze towards the opera house as the water cascaded and danced about the fountain with flecks of the sun’s last light.

Even without the full knowledge of art and the skills used to create such an elaborate display, Dexter and Tyler weren’t short on the sense of appreciation and awe that came from seeing a palace of the arts instead of a fortress by the sea. Their fatigue from having to march up the hill was quickly forgotten as they took to strolling along the paths. The atmosphere around the opera house was so different than any other in L.A that tried to mimic such elegance and class-it was much more genuine and not as forced. Various cars and people could still be seen moving around the area as the detectives took to the stairs, otherwise oblivious to their presence as they occupied themselves with their tasks and duties to the opera house. It made it all the more easy for the pair to head inside through a pair of large and decorated doors at the top of the stairs. The sight of the lobby and the interior of the opera house were just as magnificent as its exterior. Marble and gold continued to be a constant ingredient as art from the old and the modern merged harmoniously throughout the space. Features from the style known as art deco were easier to recognize in the eyes of the detectives as they studied their surroundings but the presence of the Classical Greek/Roman couldn’t be forgotten. It was easy to get lost in it all-the grand staircases with a restricted and religious air around them that rested in each direction of the compass, the murals on the ceiling and paintings on the wall, the various sculptures that danced in and out of sight, the brilliant chandeliers with dangling crystal dew drops, the rivers of tiles and plush carpet that flowed into the secret reaches of the building beyond the cavernous lobby-and for a moment Dexter and Tyler were lost. “Uhhh…Where do we…?”

“Yeah. Where do we…she never said-“

“Miss Arazia is expecting you in the Theater of Pluto. She is in the middle of rehearsal along with the rest of the production.” The voice that appeared to come out of nowhere startled Dexter and Tyler before they saw its owner behind a gold desk. A rather ordinary man flipping through a book, who didn’t bother to look up from the book as he continued to speak to the detectives. “Down the hallway to the left towards the north side, keep following that for about three doors and go to the right. It will be the only door. You can’t miss it.”

“Uhh…thank you.”

They were dismissed with a weak wave of the hand as the receptionist continued to read and look at his watch, hoping for his shift to end soon. The attitude didn’t bother them-they liked it better when they weren’t noticed much. The building could have been built like a maze but the detectives kept to their directions as they realized that they would be cutting it close to their agreed appointment time with Arazia. The elaborate decorations and designs continued as they walked down the hallways and past the windows flooded with dying sunlight but as they neared the door in question, there was a slight change in the décor. The double door was large like the others they had past but the decorative pieces…the theme of the doorway and surrounding walls were…different. Compared to what they saw before, everything was darker, sharper, almost warped in parts. Demons and all matter of evil beings were present where previously there were gods and muses and other beautiful creatures…no, that wasn’t true. Everything they saw was still beautiful-just in a different way. A way that left Dexter and Tyler almost too stunned-too engrossed-too afraid to open the doors and see what was on the other side. “The Theater of Pluto…” The angel whispered. The feathers in his white wings were shaking slightly.

“Isn’t he…the Romans’ version of the god of Hell? Hades?” The werewolf wondered in equally hushed tones. The duo already knew the answer to that but swallowed down their mixed feelings anyway. Most of their bad luck in the past has always been because of the involvement of demigods…but their ground breaking case some months ago had left them with a new concern about the full fledged gods. It was ridiculous to be wary of a room just because it was modeled after a person they had never met before…but if they had been told to meet Arazia in a place called the Theater of Mars (AKA, Ares)…chances are they would have wet their pants or passed out…or both. Sensing these thoughts in each other, Dexter and Tyler both took a door and pushed it open as a show of their conviction to fight their fears. They were welcomed by a heavy duty assault to the senses.

Even in the darkness, the black and red in the lush carpets and the carved seats were visible and the gold decorative pieces gleamed with an unsettling light. Demons and monsters dipped in gold were present everywhere, as were humans forced to endure their company and their torturous duties. These sculptures of demons and humans blended together acted as pillars for the different levels of seats and feed into a domed ceiling above the stage. Murals of an oculus of light high above taunted demons and humans as they tried to escape or were forced to gaze above from a necropolis. Below the oculus and underneath the bright glaring lights was a grand stage. An orchestra was tucked away in its own pit in the darkness below the stage. The strings were blazing away with wails filled with eternal longing. The horns were blaring and blasting with raw power. The percussion was pounding away like the heart beats of a thousand wild animals! And Arazia…though she was but one of many currently singing on stage…she was the soul of it all. Voice as clear as a bell, rich and vibrant, proudly showcasing her Italian heritage. The meaning of her words was lost on the detectives but they felt the story she was trying to tell-a pure soul, guiding her love through the darkness…and a sad story concerning…lust? The final wave of stimulation came from the dozen of winged beings flying chaotically above the stage in a tempest, singing and wailing as they tried to capture and hold each other before being blown away again, lights and shadows dancing against their forms. For the longest time, Dexter and Tyler were merely standing in the doorway. It was all so horrifying and mysterious…but also beautiful.

“CUT!!!” A single voice with an edge like a sword and the control of a master sliced through the production and brought everything to a screeching halt. The house lights quickly flooded the theater, chasing away the illusions of Hell and leaving the detectives with a blinding look at the reality that existed behind the scene before them. Those who were flying above head landed and were soon talking to stage hands, costume designers and some of the earthbound actors. Bodies began to rise from the seats and faces soon turned towards the duo as they stood in the doorway. Their presence…wasn’t as unnoticed as they would have hoped. Under the glares of those in the theater, Dexter and Tyler didn’t move as one woman from the front row charged up the walkway towards them. Her long brown hair was touched with streaks of red as it rustled against her back. Her long pleated skirt hid equally long slender legs that gave her a wide stride…and the means of staring tall men dead in the eye as she did with Dexter and Tyler once she reached them. A swan like neck was hidden away under a man’s heavy grey sweater and turtle neck. Her face was simple and beautiful with the innocence of a school girl; a strange but wonderful sight that left the sleuths feeling safe under the glares from around the theater. That feeling quickly left however when they looked into her eyes-those hard, sharp steel grey eyes that left them both with a cold sensation deep within their souls and the expectation of something dark existing deep within her own…and it was ready to reach out and strangle them both. “You two must be the world’s only living brain donors.”

“Huh?”

“There’s a sign outside that says no entry-rehearsal in progress! We’re on a tight schedule this week and we don’t have time for lookie-loos wandering around here and buggering up everything!” The girl’s Australian heritage revealed itself in the unique twangs and tones of her voice. Her fingers were wrapped dangerously tight around a rolled up script as she continued to stare at the sleuths with cold steel eyes, waiting for some sort of explanation.

“Uh-we’re-we’re here to meet Arazia Scavera! She made an appointment with us earlier today for this time and…well, she didn’t mention your rehearsal or that it would still be in progress at this time. We’re-We’re terribly sorry for the interruption!” Dexter quickly apologized as he removed his hat and fiddled with the rim. This girl had to be around his age and yet the angel was acting like he was being chastised by an angry old woman! There was something seething from her that just put him on edge…something old…something familiar…

Tyler swallowed the nervous feelings that were beginning to bud back down into the soles of his feet and stepped up to help his partner. Such negative energies weren’t about to make him cower like a scared pup! “We won’t be long. Arazia asked us to investigate the theater and everyone here in regards to a necklace that went missing two days ago-“An evil glare from the tall brunette made the werewolf button his lip faster than he would his own fly if it were caught down and open in front of the Sisters during a service. He didn’t whimper…but his ears did go flat against his skull like an intimidated puppy.

Looking around the area to make sure no one had heard them, the girl gestured for the pair to move in closer. “I’m getting really sick of Arazia going behind my back around here…but since she already did and got you two dullards involved, the least you could do is not broadcast your intentions. I’m still not entirely certain who I can trust around here now.” The glares from around the theater began to dissipate as everyone went back to their own business, comfortable that the intruders into their world were being dealt with by the fearsome female. “I’ve done everything in my power to make sure the news about the necklace hasn’t left this theater. We can’t afford a scandal over this-the investigations and the media storm could sink the show and ruin our part in the summer festival. I’ve had everyone in the theater and the backstage searched for the necklace with help from Arazia’s flunkies-nearly to the point where I had to have both taken up by the ankles and shaken loose of everything in their pockets. Still, there was no sign of the necklace anywhere.”

“Is…everyone from the day the necklace went missing here?” Dexter asked, fishing his notepad out of his back pocket…and doing his best not to imagine the tall brunette shaking people down by the ankles. It was a failing effort on both his and Tyler’s part.

“Everyone’s here. No one in my cast is missing, my sponsors are all here, backstage crew and musicians are present…of course if anyone decided to take the day off after something important went missing it would be considered suspicious.”

“Would you mind if we talked to everyone here? Take some notes on what they saw that day, what they may have noticed?” The angel asked, pencil pressed to the sheets.

The young woman gave the two detectives a look…but quickly dismissed whatever she wanted to tell them as a gaggle of stagehands approached her with props and costumes and music to approve. With a sigh, she turned her back to the pair and started to walk back towards the stage. “You both have thirty minutes to ask your questions and then leave. If you’re not gone by that time, I’m throwing you out so rehearsals can start again in peace.” From the tone of her voice…she meant every word and would accept nothing else.

Dexter and Tyler exchanged a number of looks before they both gave into the conditions presented to them. But before they could start, they needed to know something. “What-What’s your name, miss? We need to know for-“The snap of her fingers held all of the power and authority of a mob boss (or an animal trainer with experience with wild lions) as a stagehand presented Tyler with a rough draft of a playbill. They both looked it over and then at the girl as she glided down the stairs with her entourage in tow. She didn’t look back, only forward-years of practicing such an attitude reflected in her back. “… ‘Dante’s Inferno: The Opera of Allegory.’”

“’Written, directed and arranged by…Machiko Elkin.’” Now this bit of information took Dexter and Tyler for surprise and it clearly showed on both of their faces. “She wrote a play.” Tyler stated.

“She wrote an opera.” The true magnitude of such a feat wouldn’t be understood until much, much later…though it was impressive based on what little they had seen. The detectives immediately split up and began interviewing everyone in the theater-while dodging Machiko’s line of sight as she tended to her business. Everyone they spoke to essentially gave them the same story: Rehearsals and preparation for the show went on like usual until Arazia started screaming that she had been robbed. The theater was locked, everyone was searched but the necklace couldn’t be found on anyone, anywhere. Even the outsiders to the theater, the flying troupe that had been hired to take part in the performance were searched and they didn’t even know about the necklace or where Arazia’s dressing room was. The angel was approaching members of the troupe to hear their take on the incident when his eyes started to wander and latch onto one particular member hidden among the group. Her voluptuous form was emphasized by the tattered rags that dared called itself a costume, clear pale skin glowing bright under the make-up that imitated dirt and grime. Such shapes and features began to paint a familiar picture in Dexter’s mind as he infiltrated the group…and the portrait became complete when he saw the long scarlet hair, gunmetal wings and that face made perfect for a devil in disguise. “Tayte?”

“Dexter?”

“So, you were here with the rest of Miss Elkin’s sponsors two nights ago, right? Can you tell me everything about that, Mister…?”

“Colt. Matthew Colt. But please, call me Matt.” Tyler was on the other side of the theater and starting his interviews with some of the sponsors that sat in on the rehearsals. The man that he had decided to speak to first was clearly the youngest of the group and looked the most eager to share, regardless of the scandal that kept everyone so tight lipped. Matt was about as tall as Tyler but it looked like he had a bit more muscle. His tanned skin and the slight accent in his voice hinted to his Hispanic heritage. He was clearly very handsome, with feathered black hair and deep dark eyes, and all wrapped up in a sharp grey designer suit with a loose turquoise bolo tie, matching belt buckle and boots. Matt almost felt out of place amongst the older sponsors but based on the information he had given the werewolf-he was a new president to an automotives company, hoping to set up base in L.A.-Matt had every means and right to sponsor a major theatrical production. “I doubt I have much to say that can help you. I was out getting some air when Arazia started screaming. By the time I rushed back into the theater, Machiko was shutting everything down and searching for the necklace. I was searched along with everyone else but it couldn’t be found.”

“And you didn’t notice anything weird while you were leaving or coming back to the theater? Where were you exactly?”

“Not too far away-mostly the front hallways near the windows. I really didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.” Matt let out a small sigh and looked at Tyler with concern in his eyes. “I really do wish I could help more…Machiko is a good friend of mine. I’ve helped her with projects in the past but this was going to be her first major production-and her introduction to an American audience. I don’t want anything to ruin this big chance for her…”

While it was hard to imagine the kind of things Machiko could have in common with a guy like Matt (a nice enough sort so far), Tyler wasn’t going to dwell much on it while there were more pressing matters at hand. Nothing was making sense as he continued to run through all of the new information. It was impossible for this many people to not see or hear anything out of the ordinary, no matter where they were. And with these people working here every day almost non-stop…at least one person would have noticed something or someone out of the ordinary and sound an alarm in this fortress to the arts. But Tyler was still missing out on a critical part of the investigation. “Do you think you could sneak me and my partner back to Arazia’s dressing room? Maybe see if we can talk to her assistant?” The werewolf asked. If Matt was a friend then maybe he could get Dexter and himself around Machiko without stepping on her toes.

“Of course. Her assistant, I’m afraid…was fired immediately after the incident. No one has seen her since.” Matt explained as he excused himself from the other sponsors and started to walk towards the stage where the angel could be seen. “Suspicious I know…but she didn’t have the necklace and Arazia was so mad that she wouldn’t have anything more to do with her. She made such a big scene that nothing could be done until the poor woman was escorted out of the theater. She’s essentially banned from the building. But perhaps you can find an address for her later and take her statement.”

“Well. That’s certainly a big-“

“-surprise! I-I mean…I-I didn’t know that you would-you would be here! It’s…it’s a nice surprise!” Back on the stage, Dexter was struggling to find the right words to say to Tayte. The appearance of the beautiful harpy-especially in such a revealing costume-was enough derail the angel and the persona of a serious detective that he had been using up until now. The feathers in his wings shivered and the blood rushed to his ears like a flash flood traveling through a tight canyon. The struggle to keep his eyes from wandering…and to maintain a professional image and mindset…while avoiding the idea that Tayte may be involved somehow…was difficult to say the least. “You’re-Your troupe…is working here?”

Once Tayte had gotten over the initial reaction to seeing Dexter-he had no way of knowing where she would be that day and she the same-the harpy had to smile at what she saw. No matter what, the angel was adorable when he was trying to act like he didn’t notice how much of a bombshell she was. And that detective act of his was endearing. “Yeah, we were hired out to the theater to take part in the show. Not everyone with wings can fly to a script after all.” The harpy replied while casually flipping her crimson locks over her shoulder-a subtle cue that she was secretly complimenting her own skills and abilities. “I was going to surprise you with the news of my new job this morning but we were…interrupted. By a certain annoying fur-ball.”

“Tayte-“The sensation of talon tipped fingers graced Dexter’s lips and stopped him from saying another word. Looking into his love’s eyes told him to not take her so seriously…and he did. Melting and solidifying in an instant, the angel began again…though he continued with a faint flush in his cheeks and Tayte’s fingers cupped gently between his own. “I know what you’re doing here now. So I bet you know why I’m here.”

“Because of that Arazia girl-you’re here to try and find out what happened to that necklace she’s been screeching about.”

“That’s right. We’re under a time limit too-until the end of the week before the opera opens. So please, tell me everything about the day in question. Don’t leave out any details.”

The harpy’s amused smile at hearing the angel’s detective jargon turned into a hard line as she started to think back. “…we were in the middle of rehearsing our formations for the other acts in the show. I was the closest to the cat walk and the rafters when the screaming started. Machiko called us down, the theater was closed up and everyone was searched. It was sort of idiotic since some of us didn’t leave the stage the whole time…but Arazia wouldn’t stop screaming until everyone was checked out. Even the old fuddy-duddy sponsors that can barely move out of their seats were searched but…no necklace.”

Dexter scratched his head in frustration as he heard-once again-that no one had seen or heard anything. Maybe he wasn’t asking the right people the right questions…or maybe he wasn’t looking in the right places. But he felt like he was sitting right on top of something important and he couldn’t leave until he figured it out… “Can you think of…anything else? Anything you may have seen or heard…the smallest of things that may have been out of the ordinary?”

“…there was a weird rattling sound while I was up near the catwalk. In the air vents above. But it’s been really hot lately-the air conditioner must be working overtime.”

A farfetched lead was beginning to form in the angel’s mind as he looked up above the stage and saw the vents stretching far and wide above the catwalks and beyond. Before Dexter could ask Tayte for more details and give his idea more concrete footing, the winged pair were quickly joined by the prima donna herself. Arazia strolled across the stage in a costume designed to imitate royalty from Dante’s time period-a regal gown made of crushed red velvet and fine fabrics with masterful designs imprinted on them. Buttons and decorative pieces of gold studded her gown and her hair. The gown’s impression of something precious as seen through a fierce fire, combined with the nymph’s natural beauty and innocent appearance made for a stunning portrayal of Beatrice. Sadly, the focal point of this costume design-one ruby necklace-was missing. Arazia caught a glimpse of Dexter and Tayte holding hands as she came upon them, causing the angel to react and quickly-but gently-release the harpy’s fingers from his grip. The nymph regarded Tayte with…almost a competitive predatory glare. The harpy responded with a subtle raise of her eyebrow before Arazia turned to Dexter with an almost displeased look. “Am disappointed in you, Dexter. Am making appointment to meet here at exact time…but no come talk to me first. Almost to be believing like am not having anything important to say…”

“Oh! Sorry, Arazia! Tyler and I…we sort of got tangled up with Miss Elkin and then we-sort of jumped into our interviews…without you. Terribly sorry about that...”

“Am having no reason to apologize. Am only teasing!” With a glowing smile and light wave of her wrist, Arazia rested her hand against Dexter’s shoulder. The touch caught Tayte’s attention and made Dexter a little nervous. “Am hoping that good news am having from investigation so far!”

“Well-sort of…I mean-we still have a lot to do while we’re here! Like-“

“Investigating your dressing room-if that’s alright with you.” Tyler had chosen a rather interesting moment to arrive on the stage with Matt-Arazia with her mitts on Dexter and Tayte standing right there watching them! The latest spat between the harpy and himself-along with the current situation-told Tyler to ask questions later about Tayte’s presence at the theater and to continue. The angel looked like he certainly needed the excuse to escape anyway! “Miss Scavera, I hope you don’t mind if we search your dressing room. Mister Colt here offered to take us there in your place if you’re busy.”

Arazia took in several different things before reacting next-Matt looking at how her hand was on Dexter’s arm, the continued looks from Tayte, the angel’s discomfort towards herself and the harpy-before smiling once again. “Am always happy to help, Matt is. Always has been since arriving in town.” The nymph extended a hand towards Matt, who smiled before taking her hand gently in his and kissing it.

“I must admit, I was expecting to offer my services simply out of professional obligation as a sponsor…but I’ve been more than happy to continue helping as a gentlemen to a beautiful young lady.” Matt’s charm melted Arazia’s smile into something warmer (and perhaps secretly…smug?). Dexter and Tyler took note of the scene and exchanged a quick glance-maybe there was nothing going on, maybe there was. Tayte merely rolled her eyes in a mildly annoyed gesture. “If it’s alright with you, I could take the detectives to your dressing room so you can continue with the rehearsal.”

“Am on the break now so am accompanying detectives to dressing room by self. Besides…” Arazia moved swiftly once again and laced her arms around Dexter’s. “Am needing to change costumes so all the better to go anyway.” The nymph ignored the angel’s clear discomfort, the looks she was getting from Tyler and Matt…and a rather blank expression from Tayte. She just kept smiling and tugging Dexter along towards the backstage area before Tyler-after checking out Tayte for any possible, murderous reaction-followed after. “Dinner after practice would be most appreciated! Am knowing many restaurants with delicious food since arrival in Los Angeles and wanting to try them all! Will be meeting you at usual place!”

Dexter was mentally scrambling as Arazia pulled him away from Tayte and towards the backstage. Tyler was at a loss for words too so the angel had to turn back and call out to the harpy. “Ah-Tayte! Just-I’ll-I’ll come back! I just-I just need to-“

“I need to get back to rehearsal. I’ll know where to find you afterwards. Take it easy, Angel cakes. You’re going to need it.” Tayte simply turned around and strolled off the stage opposite of where Dexter and Tyler were being…escorted. She never looked back and her voice never registered any emotion, but Dexter could swear that she was mad. He could tell by the way she walked away-a little extra attitude in her steps, a hasty swagger in her hips, the way her wings and her shoulders hunched up. Matt looked a little steamed as well by the actions he had just witnessed…but he continued to smile and simply promised to wait for Arazia until later on. A gentlemanly enough gesture but Dexter noticed how Matt’s eyes went over Tayte’s form and curves as she walked away. A subtle enough glance but it was a well trained wandering eye full of lust…at least, that’s how the angel saw it. Dexter wanted to go back to Tayte, to go back to Matt and maybe pop him one in the nose…but Arazia had a stronger grip than a girl her size would suggest.

The backstage was packed full of people and props and preparations for the opera. As the nymph walked through with the detectives, her presence parted the crowds and provided them with a clear path to her dressing room. As one would expect of a diva, Arazia’s room was spacious and spectacular. The blend of modern and Greek continued in every aspect of the room’s design, creating a comfort place for rest and preparation of gold, red and white. Unintentionally, murals of beautiful nymphs lounging among columns in an outdoor garden were prominent on the walls and bouquets of exotic flowers from dozens of admirers perfumed the room. A space created for one expecting and used to elegance…but was it created with security in mind? Dexter and Tyler, after looking over the room for its superficial reasons, separated and started to search the space with the eyes of detectives. Things that were out of place, out of the ordinary, anything broken or scratched or smudged…everything went under scrutiny for even the smallest of clues. “Where were you keeping the necklace while you were away from this room?” Dexter asked as he studied the locks on the door-none were broken or showed signs of being picked.

“Locked in make-up vanity drawer, in a locked jewelry box. Am only one keeping keys to both and key to dressing room.” Arazia declared as she settled down onto a leather chaise. She watched the sleuths pounce on the vanity and study it for any forced or broken locks. Much like the door, there were no signs of the locks being picked or forced open. The pair continued to search the room but much to the nymph’s displeasure, there was very little to be found. Arazia was prepared to send the boys away and have her ex-assistant brought in for…”questioning” of her own when Dexter and Tyler suddenly noticed something. The sleuths rushed over to the back wall of the room and looked up at the air vent near the ceiling. The werewolf was sniffing the air, pupils dilating as the angel looked at how the shaft dropped into the room. Puzzled by how Tyler was getting a boost onto Dexter’s shoulders, Arazia got up and walked over to the towering detectives. “Am doing what now, exactly?”

“Can you open it, Tyler?” Dexter asked as he held onto the werewolf’s ankles on top of his shoulders.

“Yeah! The screws are loose and the hinges swing the grate into the room!” Tyler pulled the vent open and peered inside. The scent that he smelled before was stronger now and almost slapped him in the face. Something toxic, alien…but with something familiar mixed in. The source of the scent came from the tiniest drops of blood left smudged and dried on the metal of the air shaft. “There’s blood in here!”

“That’s how they got in here! The perp crawled through the vents!” Dexter exclaimed, a happy smile of discovery appearing on his face. Arazia-having suddenly begun to change her mind about the detectives-was mildly impressed…by more than one thing.

“I’m going in! There’s more blood!”

“Huh-hey, hey! Tyler!” Dexter was pulled slightly off of the ground before letting go of Tyler’s ankles. The werewolf slid into the air vent effortlessly and disappeared from sight. “Tyler!”

“Just follow my voice and the sounds of the banging!” The space inside of the vent was tight but between Tyler’s flexible body and past experiences of hunting and training in tight quarters, he was quickly able to move through the shafts like it was a walk down an open hallway. As the werewolf crawled through, the banging of his movements traveled up the wall, across the ceiling and out of Arazia’s dressing room. “Come on, Dexter! I got to follow this thing!”

“Coming! Excuse me, Arazia!” Dexter gave the nymph a quick tilt of his hat and dashed out of the room. With his eyes and ears tuned to the ceiling, the angel ran after the banging and the voice of his partner in the air vents above, puffs of dust and cobwebs falling down through the grates-along with a swear word or two. Dashing around and occasionally colliding with some of the curious backstage members and props, Dexter thought he had lost track of Tyler until he heard his voice above the catwalk-right around the same spot Tayte said that she heard something! Things were beginning to click as the angel threw his wings open and took flight above the stage. The catwalk shook and wobbled under the weight of his landing but Dexter kept moving, his footsteps thundering against the metal. The vent traveled along the theater’s ceiling space and towards another door. Past the door were several flights of stairs that eventually led to the roof of the opera house. Far beyond the sculptures that guarded the building, far beyond the horizon, the sun was continuing its lazy descent across the sky, half resting on top of the waves… It was easy for the angel to lose his grasp on time during cases but the sun was always there to remind him of the passing hours. In the approaching darkness, Dexter looked around for his partner in the dozens of vents arranged across the rooftop. As the angel searched the various vents, a sudden bang came from behind him. The noise made Dexter jump as Tyler kicked out the grate to his vent. “Geez, Ty! Scare a guy half to death!”

“Sorry, just needed to get out of there. I don’t know what was crawling around in there before me…but its blood stinks! I can’t even identify the species it came from!” Tyler flopped down from the tall vent and shook his body loose. His clothes were filthy and torn from his adventure but the werewolf was fine overall. His eyes, however, continued to resemble those of a beast in the middle of the hunt. “I can say this though-our thief isn’t human. Besides the blood it would be impossible for a normal human to go through the vents without getting stuck or falling through or just making a racket on the way out.”

“Can you keep following the trail?” Dexter asked as he pointed out the thin blood trail on the gravel below. “Though…I think it only leads to one place…”

“Right…” The pair followed the blood trail to the edge of the roof. Facing towards the front of the building, the perpetrator would have had to have survived a three story fall in order to make their escape. There were bushes down below, enough to possible cushion a fall…but Tyler’s theory about a non-human culprit was starting to look really plausible. “We need to get down there.”

“Hold on then.” Dexter took Tyler’s hands and flew them both down the side of the building. In the bushes below, they searched for more clues. After several minutes of rooting around the branches and leaves, the werewolf’s foot caught on something in the dirt and he started to dig. He unearthed a rather large box with delicate carved designs and decorative locks. The inside-though dirty now-was built to cushion and hold something extremely valuable. “What do you think, Ty?”

“Smells like Arazia’s room…I think this is what she was keeping the necklace in.” Tyler replied as he continued to look over the box. “…hey, hold up. The lock isn’t broken on this thing.”

“Did they pick the lock or something?” Dexter took a closer look at the locks on the box for signs of scratch marks from tools. When would the culprit have had time to pick the lock on the box while escaping? Why leave it behind and take the necklace when it would have been easier to hide it in its box? For the time being though, the duo had their first series of clues. “Let’s show this to Arazia and see if she can remember anything else. Jog her memory a bit.”

“A list of crazy stalkers or angry competition or anyone hard up for money would be nice. The address of that fired assistant would be nice too.” Tyler and Dexter crawled out of the bushes and started to head back towards the door of the opera house. The courtyard was still full of hustle and bustle despite the dying light of day. People and cars were passing through, performing whatever tasks were necessary to keep the opera house going. As the detectives took to the staircase, something down below was beginning to unfold. A truck driver was arguing with the stagehands about where the delivery was supposed to go. As he climbed out of the truck to continue the argument, he forgot to put on the brake and the vehicle started to roll backwards. By the time people had noticed the runaway truck, it was already barreling down the road beyond anyone’s power to stop-and it was rolling towards a small blonde girl. She was standing on the edge of the path, studying the opera house in the light of the setting sun when she turned towards the shouts and saw the car swerving and coming right at her. “DEXTER!!!”

“HOLY-!!!” Before he realized what he was doing, Dexter was unfurling his wings and diving down the stairs and towards the young girl. The courtyard and fast approaching truck blurred past his vision until the girl’s startled blue eyes and terrified face blurred into his line of sight. His arms wrapped around her small body as he flew like an arrow through the air towards whatever open space he could see. The truck barreled through like a monster… If Dexter had been any slower, it would have been the end for them both. But as it was, the truck merely nicked the tip of his shoe before continuing down the hill. The angel rolled onto the lawn, little girl clutched in his arms as people ran after the truck and the rest ran towards him. He spotted Tyler among them, frantic and panicked for his partner before the realization of what he just did started to set in. Dexter had just jumped…in front of a car…to save a girl…again. Much like the time he…the situation where he… Much like the day he died.

Dexter felt the strength drain out of his body before he lost consciousness and passed out on the lawn, the young girl still encircled by his arms. The memories of his death were still too much to bear, even after all of this time… Under the watchful eyes of Jupiter on the fountain, the angel was allowed a moment of peace as the world continued to spin around them at a dizzying pace. The opera house would be allowed no such peace for some time to come…

After all, it made such a perfect scene for a story to unfold.