the kill of it all
Madison Night Mystery #9
Hardcover ISBN: TO COME
Paperback ISBN: 9781954579293
eBook ISBN: 9781954579286
Feb 22, 2022.
Madison Night’s star is on the rise. Thanks to a series of TV spots to promote her decorating business’s grand reopening, she’s busier than ever. The police commissioner, impressed with her screen presence, engages her to replace the original actress in his feel-good campaign for local law enforcement. But when the first spokeswoman’s body is found on set after Madison’s testimonial airs, the last thing the police need is publicity.
Madison steers clear of the controversy by focusing on her company relaunch, but when gossip links the victim to someone special in her life, she gets involved by proxy. She uses her soapbox to draw out suspects, but if she’s not careful, it might serve as a coffin instead.
Can Madison reveal a hidden killer before the bubble bursts on her newfound success?
The pitch made it sound glamorous. A thirty-second commercial aimed at new homeowners featuring a local decorator who reeked of genuine charm and a surprising dearth of experience. Filmed in her studio, surrounded with classic pieces of furniture that represented her flair with mid-century modern design. At least that was the concept. My concept. I was the local decorator in question.
My plan was to buy local TV spots and ad space at the local cinema house that ran classic movies. Who wouldn’t pay attention to a perky blonde in colorful vintage when she was sandwiched between ads for plastic surgery and used cars?
The problem wasn’t with the concept, it was in the execution. Decorating was my specialty, and being high on DIY, I naturally assumed I could do this myself too. I filmed a low-production commercial in my studio with my phone, edited it with free software from my computer, and added my contact information along the bottom. I sent it to the volunteer advertising manager for a local movie theater where I sometimes volunteered and hoped for the occasional spot.
But the volunteer advertising manager for the local movie theater was also the paid advertising manager for the local TV station, and when another advertiser backed out of his spot, mine was slotted in as the replacement. My phone exploded the next day: new clients, old friends, and more than one director who told me my charming, low-production concept would do my reputation more harm than good. From there, it was a hop, skip, and a jump to storyboards, cue cards, and a filming location in an airport hangar made to look like my studio. Acoustics or some such nonsense.
“Madison, I need you to relax.” The instructions came from Denton Gold, the director of my commercial. Denton was in his late forties, had longish, thick gray hair and a soul patch of a beard directly below his lower lip. He wore round navy-blue glasses that framed his light blue eyes, a long-sleeved white mock turtleneck, and wrinkled khaki cargo pants that were cinched just above his hips with a belt from the military surplus store. “Your first few commercials introduced you as a local business owner. This time, we want you to talk to your audience as if you already know them. You want viewers to see you as a friend. You want them to want to hire you.”
I sighed. A makeup woman came over to me and patted some powder onto my forehead. “This isn’t the most relaxing setting,” I replied.
“It’s supposed to feel like your showroom,” Denton said.
I glanced around. “It feels like an airport hangar.”
I turned and looked at the enlarged backdrop behind me. A photographer had come to Mad for Mod and photographed a staged setting of furniture then had the image blown up and clamped onto a metal frame with Cardellini clamps. A staging crew attached beadboard to the bottom of a four-foot-square portable wall, and a gaffer aimed a 300D Mark II light at me. Production assistants bustled about and seemed to be everywhere and nowhere all at once.
“Let’s go again,” Denton instructed. “Talk to the camera like you’re at a cocktail party.”
I faced the camera and forced a smile. Denton pointed at me and nodded his head. One of the production assistants, the female, adjusted her grip on the cue cards.
“Hello, I’m Madison Night. I heard you recently bought a new house, and I’d love to help you customize it. I own Mad for Mod, a boutique decorating firm in Lakewood, and—” The spotlight temporarily blinded me, and instinctively, I shielded my eyes so I could see the words on the card.
“Cut,” Denton called. The PA lowered the cards. “Madison, you have to read without looking like you’re reading. If you shield your eyes from the lights, you’re signaling to the audience that you’re on a film set. Let’s get this last take, and we’ll call it a day.”
Before I could properly express how much easier that would be if we were in my showroom like I’d originally suggested, a set of metal doors opened at the end of the hangar, and loud female laughter filled the space. Had the light not blinded me and ruined my take, it would still have been worthless. I turned to look and saw a curvy redhead in a bathrobe followed by several hunky police officers. None of them seemed to show the same curiosity about us.
Denton checked his watch and cursed. “They’re early,” he muttered to no one in particular. He walked away, leaving me and the rest of our commercial film crew unattended. That action had a ripple effect through the crew, who immediately acted like they were on a break.
“I’ll talk to them,” I said. I left my mock studio and walked to the new arrivals. As I approached, I forced a smile. It felt about as genuine as the one I’d used on set. Two of the buff policemen noticed me first, and one by one, the group quieted.
“Hello,” I said. “We’re filming a commercial over there. We’re almost done. Would it be possible for you to keep it down while we finish, or maybe even wait outside?” I turned up the dial on my charm and tipped my head to the side. “If I can get my lines right, I’m sure we’ll be finished in no time.”
The redhead in the bathrobe smiled back at me, but her smile was more of the cat-and-the-canary version. “I’m sure you’re done now,” she said. She held my stare long enough to make me self-conscious, and considering I was fully clothed and she was not, it was a point scored in her column. As if to underscore the point, she untied the belt of her bathrobe and eased it back over her bare shoulders.
Her fingernails, long, pointed pink talons with tiny sparkly faceted stones embedded in them, sparkled under the overhead lights. Underneath the robe, she wore a strapless pink lace bodysuit practically molded to her body, the kind of undergarment you might find on a Barbie doll in the sixties. She swept her red hair to the side, where it draped over her shoulder. “These boys caught me on an infraction of the law, and I need to be punished.” The men tittered. The woman winked at me even though I was certainly not in on the joke.
Before I could process what she meant, Denton approached. “Olivia, you’re early.” He pulled her in, kissing her on each cheek. “We were just wrapping up this morning’s shoot. I’ll send the lighting crew over to set up yours.” He turned to me and paused for an awkward moment before continuing. “Have you two met?”
“No,” I said.
“Olivia, this is Madison Night. Madison, this is Olivia Jean.”
“Hello,” I said to Olivia.
“Charmed, I’m sure,” she said. The caliber of her voice had risen to a girlish timber. I glanced behind her at the uniformed police officers, but they appeared not to have noticed. She waved her hand over her shoulder. “These are my men.”
Up close, it was clear the men weren’t actual police officers. I had the uneasy feeling the airport hangar was about to become the backdrop for something more risqué than a decorating commercial, and I had the sudden urge to return to my set and cover it in protective plastic.
“As I said, we’re just wrapping up,” Denton repeated. “I’ll send hair and makeup over when we finish.”
Denton turned away. I lingered and smiled again, but Olivia had already forgotten I was there. I caught up with Denton halfway back toward where we’d been filming my commercial. “I didn’t realize we were almost done,” I said then added, “I guess I didn’t do as poorly as I thought.”
“Olivia’s here to film a series of feel-good campaigns for the city. She’s not exactly known for her attention span, so if she’s here and ready to go, I’m going to get the cameras on her. I think I can patch something together for you from the takes we got today, but you might want to practice your lines just in case.”
“In case what?”
“In case your film is crap and we have to reshoot, which I’d say is a fifty percent possibility.”
“I was that bad?”
“Can’t say I’d hire you, and I own a 1958 ranch on Forest.”
We’d reached our shooting set. I looked over Denton’s shoulder at Olivia, who relaxed in a comfortable red leather chair while a white man and a black woman fussed over her hair and makeup.
“Olivia’s an actress?” I asked.
“She’s the talent,” he said. “Pain in the ass to work with, but when the cameras roll, she knows what to do.”
“Could I stick around to watch her?” I asked. “I might learn something I can use.”
“Olivia likes a closed set so she can get comfortable, but if you take your time packing up, you might get a glimpse of the magic.”
A member of my film crew pushed a large light past me, and I hopped out of the way so as not to get my feet caught up in the cables. I couldn’t complain about my time being cut short; Denton had not only told me about the second job, but he also offered me a discount if I was willing to work around it.
I watched the scene across the hangar. Olivia seemed at home amongst the cast and crew. She flipped through note cards and then handed the deck to Denton. While the lighting crew checked the levels and the set designer rolled in her backdrop on wheels, she went over her lines with the other actors. I was too far away to hear what they said, but even from a distance, I recognized the cooperation amongst the players.
I found myself entranced by how natural Olivia seemed even while barely dressed. If I could appropriate half of her confidence while reciting my lines, I’d have a genuine winning commercial on my hands. This was a learning moment, I realized. I knew how to expand my newly relaunched business, but until recently, the only advertising I’d done had been word of mouth.
As I stood behind the makeup chair, watching Olivia act, I felt another person behind me. “She makes it look easy, doesn’t she?” Aliyah, the hairstylist, said. Her thick braids were knotted at the back of her head and hung down between her shoulder blades. Her skin was a rich brown, with expertly applied makeup that gave her an airbrushed appearance in the flesh. She had a hairbrush tucked under her arm, and she chipped away at the base of her fingernail while staring across the room. “You never know if experience like hers is going to translate into commercial work, but from what I’ve seen, she’s a natural.”
“I wish I could be like her,” I said wistfully.
“No, you don’t,” she said. “She memorized lines that someone else wrote. You speak from your heart.”
I laughed. “Yes, but I flubbed so much of what I wanted to say that a production assistant had to write it on cue cards.”
She shook her head and gestured for me to sit down while she smoothed out my hair. “That was Denton’s idea. Your early takes were better. Even when you tripped over your words, you were genuine. Olivia’s paid to say what someone else tells her to say, and she’s going to get attention because she looks like she looks. But it’s not the direction I would go if I were the client.”
“Who is the client?” I asked. “Denton said she was filming something for the city, but he didn’t say who.”
“Some not-for-profit,” Aliyah said with a shrug.
I plastered on my fake smile one more time. “You mentioned Olivia’s experience. What does she do when she’s not filming commercials?”
“She’s a dancer at Jumbos,” she said. “It’s quite the cop hangout, and from what I hear, she comes highly recommended.”