End Me a TenorJoelle Charbonneau
Murder for Choir
“Joelle Charbonneau brings a professional’s eye and experience to Murder for Choir, and readers will enjoy her heroine Paige Marshall’s take on high school show choirs. Music and drama lovers who can’t get enough of Rachel, Finn, Kurt, and the gang will have enormous fun with this delightfully witty take on ‘Murder, She Sang.’ Encore, encore!”
—Miranda James, New York Times bestselling author
“Charbonneau hits all the right notes with her show choir coach sleuth.”
—Denise Swanson, New York Times bestselling author
“An intriguing mystery . . . I’m looking forward to future entries in this series.”
—Donna Andrews, New York Times bestselling author
“Imagine if Stephanie Plum joined the cast of Glee, then someone proved to be more felonious than harmonious.”
—Deke Sharon, vocal producer of NBC’s The Sing-Off
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Joelle Charbonneau
MURDER FOR CHOIR
END ME A TENOR
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END ME A TENOR
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 2013 by Joelle Charbonneau.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.
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Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / April 2013
Cover illustration by Paul Hess.
Cover design by Rita Frangie.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
For my son, Max.
Although a writer’s job is solitary, no author ever publishes a book alone. I owe countless thanks to my family, especially my mother, Jaci, my husband, Andy, and my son, Max, for their love and support. Also, I owe a great deal of thanks to my students, especially Chessie Santoro, Kristen Bock, Jacob Groth, Megan Gill, and Breanna Lucas, for the inspiration you provided. You make teaching a true joy and I am so very proud of each and every one of you.
To my agent, Stacia Decker, I’m so lucky to have you as a partner in this publishing adventure. You’re the best. Much gratitude also must be extended to Donald Maass, everyone at DMLA and to the gang of Team Decker. Also, this series would not be possible without the insightful guidance and enthusiasm of my editor, Michelle Vega, the wonderful leadership of Natalee Rosenstein and the rest of the fabulous team at Berkley Prime Crime. You guys are amazing. And I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to Paul Hess for his amazing art and Rita Frangie for her art design. I love my covers.
I would also like to say thank you to members of the performance world whom I have been lucky enough to work with and to three specifically who allowed me to use their names in this book. To Ray Frewen, Bill Walters, and LaVon Fischer as well as the performers, directors, and production staff who have graced the stage of my life—your creative force and dedication to storytelling are an inspiration to everyone around you.
Last, but by no means least, thank you to all the booksellers, librarians, and readers out there who pick up this book. You make everything possible.
Whoever invented artificial snow deserved to be shot. No matter how careful I was, iridescent flakes landed in my hair, my clothes, and my mouth. Not only did they taste bad, but the sparkly flakes made me sneeze. The label claimed they were hypoallergenic. The label lied.
Then again, none of my show choir students strategically scattering handfuls of the stuff across the stage seemed to be having a problem. They were delighted to spend their Saturday afternoon flirting, rehearsing, and decorating the auditorium for the Winter Wonderland concert. Show choir was their life. I was sorry to say that, at this very moment, it was my life, too. But not for long. I’d gotten an opera gig, and my performance next weekend was going to be my big break. My real career would take off, and I’d be done with teenage angst.
“The stage looks great, don’t you think?” Prospect Glen’s choir director, Larry DeWeese, walked over to me. His smile was bright, but the way he was wringing his hands spoke volumes. Clearly, the Yoga he’d been doing in his spare time hasn’t helped calm his nerves.
“Wrong, Paige?” Larry raked a hand through his disheveled brown hair as his smile widened. Not a good sign. “Why would you think anything is wrong?”
I’d only been working with Larry and the Prospect Glen show choirs for four months, but every time Larry smiled like that bad things happened. I just hoped that whatever the crisis was it wouldn’t involve a dead body—like it had my first week on the job.
I turned toward the sound of my name, sneezed, and then smiled at the student who patiently waited for my attention. Megan Posey was shy, but she had a fabulous soprano voice and a great work ethic, which made up for her lack of dance training. Some of the other students snickered at Megan’s struggles to pick up the choreography, but she ignored them and always came to the next rehearsal prepared. I had to admire that. “What’s up, Megan?”
The blonde senior frowned. “One of the snowmen lost his head. Do you want us to duct-tape it back on?”
The mere mention of the word “snow” was enough to make me sneeze and sneeze and sneeze. Both Megan and Larry took a step back as I sneezed one last time.
“Why don’t I handle the snowman problem?” Larry fished a crumpled tissue out of his pocket and handed it to me. “That way, Miss Marshall can start rehearsal.
We only have the theater for another two hours.”
Larry headed stage left to work his magic on Frosty, leaving me in charge. Drat. While the students pushed the boundaries of good behavior around him, they always stepped back before crossing the line into detention. His having the power to fail them garnered a semblance of the teenagers’ respect. As a voice teacher and extracurricular activity coach, I didn’t have the power to alter their grade point average, which meant I was forced to gain their respect the old-fashioned way—through fear. While I didn’t see the allure of show choir, I was grateful these kids lived in terror of losing their places on the squad.
Sneezing one last time, I yelled, “Time for warm-ups. Music in Motion will rehearse first. Then Mr. DeWeese will run the Singsations through their numbers.”
A few of the boys helped me move the grand piano into place, and I tried not to cringe as my fingers touched the keys. While the keyboard had been disinfected (I knew because I had done it myself) it was hard to forget Greg Lucas’s dead body that was once perched on top of it. Assuring myself that the piano didn’t have death cooties, I began to play the first vocal warm-up.
Five minutes later, I was happy to leave the death piano and walked over to the CD player at the end of the stage.
“We’re going to run the entire program from beginning to end. Once we’ve gone through all the songs, we can go back and polish. Take your places.”
When everyone was in his or her starting position, I pressed play and watched my choir swing into action.
For the first three songs, the teens twirled, shimmied, and sashayed around the stage singing about reindeer, sleigh rides, and other winter topics. No mention of Christmas, Hanukkah, or other religious holidays was allowed, which in my mind eliminated some of the best music selections. But the students didn’t seem to care what the music was about as long as it was upbeat and had plenty of solo opportunities. I winced as the current soloist reached for a note and missed. Sighing, I made a note to work on that along with missed dance steps, an out-of-tune harmony, and a lift that didn’t quite get off the ground. None of the students looked concerned by their mistakes. They laughed and smiled and had a blast.
Then the music changed and so did their attitude. This music wasn’t just for their friends and family attending the winter concert. Though these songs would also be performed at the concert, they were part of the show choir’s repertoire for the competitions that would start in two months—competitions my students intended to win. But not if they danced and sang the way they just had.
When they struck their final poses, I hit the off switch and got to work. “Megan, you need to spot your turn so you don’t fall out of it. Markus, keep your head up. No looking at the floor. Ethan, I need more diction. If you’re singing English, I should be able to understand you. Chessie, don’t push during your solo. The pitch is going flat.”
“What do you mean, I’m going flat?” Chessie flipped her long dark hair behind her shoulders and gave me a look that could kill. Which I suppose I should have expected. While senior Chessie Bock was undeniably the most talented member of my choir, she was also the most difficult.
When I first started as coach, Chessie had done her best to get me ousted from the job. Not too long after school started, we came to a truce that I hoped was based on my talent and leadership. Most likely it had more to do with my willingness to keep some of Chessie’s less-than-legal antics under wraps. Chessie was applying to several of the top music theater schools in the country. While most colleges looked for extracurricular activities, making license plates in the clink probably wasn’t going to gain her a scholarship. Over the past couple weeks, I’d noticed her attitude reasserting itself. Clearly, the cease-fire gained by my silence had come to an end.
Hoping to avoid a meltdown, I chose my words carefully. “The solo is in the perfect range for you to show off your voice, but today you’re pushing the volume. When you push, you have a tendency to go flat.”
Chessie’s eyes flashed. “I never go flat.”
A few of the students behind Chessie rolled their eyes. Taking a deep breath, I explained, “Everyone goes flat. The best singers recognize the areas they need to improve and make adjustments.”
The set of Chessie’s jaw told me she still wanted to fight. Instead, she gave a sharp nod of her head and said, “Can I try the solo again?”
While Chessie hated being critiqued, she far more disliked being thought of as less than the best. Taking a seat at the death piano, I ran Chessie through her solo. While she still looked pissed, she sounded fabulous. Chalk one up for me.
Once the rest of the problems were addressed, I started the CD player and watched the choir go through its routines again. Aside from a couple slips on the snow, the team looked like it might be ready for the concert on Thursday night. Thank God!
When the last number was complete, I gave a couple more notes, reminded the kids about tomorrow’s rehearsal with the Music in Motion band, and asked them to drive safely home. The thought of fourteen teenagers cruising down the icy streets made me happy I had offered to stay late and help Larry polish the second-tier show choir’s routines today.
And after seeing their routines, I knew why Larry needed help. Made up mostly of underclassmen who aspired to compete in the top show choir, the thirty-four-member Singsations did their best to perform Larry’s unique brand of choreography. With so many kids and only so much room to move, the dancing quickly dissolved into a human game of pinball.
An hour later, the dance steps had been simplified, one song had been axed from the program, and the kids looked ready to drop. But the routines were better. I hoped by the concert that they’d look better still.
While the students pulled on their coats and boots and gathered up boxes from their show choir Secret Santas, Larry yelled, “Good work, everyone. Don’t forget to remind your parents that you have rehearsal every night before the concert. Miss Marshall and I expect to see each and every one of you there.”
“Music in Motion is meeting after school this week,” I reminded Larry. “I won’t be at the evening rehearsals. Remember?”
I’d shifted the practice schedule when I was cast as the soprano in the sing-along Messiah starring world-renowned tenor David Richard. While David Richard wasn’t expected to attend the weeklong rehearsal schedule preceding the sold-out performances, the rest of the soloists were.
“I know that was the plan, but that was before.”
Larry’s attention shifted from me to the students walking out the door. “I need to make sure everyone has a ride home. I’ll explain everything when I come back.”
Before I could protest, Larry hurried to the back of the auditorium toward the lobby, leaving me to wonder what had changed since yesterday when Larry and I last spoke about my rehearsal plans. While I wasn’t interested in being a high school show choir coach for the long term, I needed the job to pay the bills until my performing career took off. This week’s gig had the potential to help me take that step, but nothing in the performing world was guaranteed. Talent didn’t necessarily translate into fame and fortune. Luck was a huge part of it. Until Larry’s cryptic announcement, I’d hoped my luck had taken a turn for the better.
“How did rehearsal go?”
I turned toward the voice coming from the stage wings and smiled as Prospect Glen’s theater teacher, Devlyn O’Shea, stepped out of the shadows. The sexy glint in his blue eyes made me think that maybe my luck wasn’t all that terrible after all. Standing over six feet tall with brown hair, a slightly crooked nose, and a muscular dancer’s body, Devlyn was enough to make any girl feel lucky. Until they noticed the pink sweater that coordinated perfectly with his pink and gray pinstriped pants.
That’s when most girls would curse the fates that such a fantastic male specimen was gay. I should know. I’d cursed those
same fates when we first met. Of course, that was before I learned his secret: At Devlyn’s first job he’d seen a teacher’s life destroyed after the teacher rejected a student’s advances. In a fit of pique, the girl marched to the principal’s office to file a report of sexual misconduct. By the time the teacher was exonerated, his career was in shreds. When Devlyn started this job, he took to wearing pastels to protect himself and his job from high school girls’ unwanted advances.
“They have a ways to go before the competitions in the spring, but they’ll hold their own at the concert.” Ignoring the way my heart jumped as Devlyn sauntered across the stage toward me, I asked, “What are you doing here? I thought you had a family thing today.”
“Larry called and asked if I could swing by for a few minutes. I was happy to say yes since my mother was trying to talk me into a blind date with the daughter of one of her friends.”
I stamped down a flicker of jealousy and asked, “What did you tell her?”
He gave me a sexy grin. “I said for the past couple of months I’ve had my eye on a beautiful brunette. That our schedules hadn’t allowed us to pursue a relationship, but I was hopeful we’d find the time soon. What do you think?” he asked, taking a step forward. “Do you think we can find the time?”
I could feel the heat radiating off his body, and my heart skipped a beat. “Sure. I think we can make time for that.”
Devlyn’s eyes scanned the auditorium and then settled back on me. His head dipped and his lips brushed against mine. The kiss was light, and over before it began. But my lips were tingling and my legs weak when Devlyn said, “What do you say we catch a late dinner after—”
“Thank God you’re here, Devlyn.” Larry’s panicked voice echoed from the back of the large auditorium. “We have a huge problem.”
As Larry hurried down the center aisle to the stage, Devlyn shot me an amused smile that I couldn’t help returning. Larry often referred to a hole in his sock as a huge problem.