Emergency, Parker! Call me!
The text on Parker James’s iPhone almost broke her rhythm. She
focused on the piano keys and tried to ignore it. Her brother could
wait. Didn’t he realize she was in the middle of a concert?
She never should have set the phone on the music rack where she could see it. Now, in the middle of her best song, she was distracted by the vibration — as well as the message. She forced her mind back to the lyrics she’d written.
It was rare to have the undivided attention of fifty middle
schoolers. Tonight, as she’d played piano and crooned her songs,
they actually stopped whispering and shoving each other. Instead,
they sang along, a beautiful chorus of a cappella praise.
The phone vibrated again as more voices joined the song. Jaded young faces held sweet, teary-eyed expressions, far removed from eighth-grade mini-dramas. Many of them closed their eyes . . . and they weren’t nodding off. They lifted their hands but weren’t waving to friends. They were in the zone — that special place where all performers pray they’ll take their audience. No way was she going to stop to answer the phone.
Red bangs fell in front of her eyes and she shook them back.
“Sing it with me,” she whispered into the microphone.
This life is trying . . .
My fingers prying
Your hand away.
But You are bigger . . .
You grasp with vigor . . .
And get me through another day.”
Another text flashed onto the screen.
Parker, there’s been a murder. Call immediately.
Now he had her attention.
The sound of soft voices rose and swelled, but the phone had snagged her thoughts. A murder? Her brother Gibson was a homicide detective, but he’d never reported a murder to her before. It had to be someone she knew. Someone close to her.
She stopped playing, letting the voices carry the song. Slipping
off her stool as the teens kept singing, she stepped over to Daniel
Walker, the youth minister, who strummed a guitar on the stage
next to her. “Could you take over for a minute?” she whispered.
He nodded reverently, continuing to sing, and she slipped into
the hallway and called Gibson. He answered after half a ring.
“Yeah, what’s wrong?” she whispered.
“I’m at Colgate. There’s been a shooting.”
The chorus continued on the other side of the door:
This life is trying . . .”
She plugged her ear. “A shooting? Who?” She heard Gibson talking
to someone in the background. “Gibson?”
The phone cut off, and she punched the button to call him back.
It went straight to voicemail.
She stared at the backlit screen of the phone in her hand. Had the phone company lost the call, or was Gibson in trouble? And who’d been shot? Her other brother, LesPaul, worked as a recording engineer at the complex, but she was pretty sure he wasn’t in a session tonight.
The singing stopped, and she touched her pounding chest, trying
to decide what to do. She had to tell someone she was leaving.
She wasn’t finished with her concert. What would they think?
She cracked the door open as Daniel took the microphone.
“Wow,” he said in an intimate rumble, “that was great. And isn’t
it just like Parker James to forego the applause and adulation, and
step out quietly in the middle of our worship, to let God have all
She stepped back and closed the door as she heard the applause
and adulation she really had come here for.
“Follow that example, guys,” he went on. “She’s a real woman of
God, and I’m humbled by what she did here tonight.”
Now she couldn’t go back in, even if she wanted. What could she
do? Tell Daniel that he had her all wrong? That she wanted to sing
another half-hour and work them into a standing ovation?
No, she couldn’t. She had to get to Colgate Studios. She started
walking away, then heard Daniel’s voice again. “The thing about
Parker is that she doesn’t have a voice that draws big crowds.”
Her ego took the blow and splattered on the ground. It was worthy
of a chalk outline.
“But man, can she tell a story with her songs and lead us right
to the throne of God.”
She told herself it was a compliment, not a criticism, but the words still hurt. Crestfallen, she headed out to her V-dub. No time now for hurt feelings, not when someone she knew might be dead. What could have happened? Had some band members gotten into a fight? Even though Colgate Studios was a drug-and-alcohol-free
zone, and mostly catered to Christian record labels, the musicians, engineers, and producers weren’t always drug-free — and they didn’t always behave differently from the secular musicians who’d given the industry its reputation for sleaze and self-indulgence. Occasionally there was an incident. But never anything requiring a homicide investigation.
Dread washed through her as she tried to remember who was
recording there tonight. Clayton Marks, who’d been in Studio G all
afternoon, had seemed depressed since his new album had tanked.
Rumor was that he’d tried to take his own life once already. Maybe
he’d succeeded tonight.
Would Homicide be called in for a suicide? Yes, of course. They probably had to investigate just in case it was a murder. But would Gibson call her out of a concert to tell her that? Besides, he’d specifically called it a murder.
By the time she hit 16th Avenue South, part of legendary Music Row, she had the heavy, sad certainty that she’d be attending the funeral of someone close to her. As she passed Sony Music, a million blue flashing lights illuminated the road in front of Colgate Studios. She drove straight for the roadblock and stopped behind a squad car.
A cop she didn’t know approached her as she got out. “Ma’am, you can’t park there.”
She strained to see the building a few doors down. “I work at Colgate Studios. What happened?”
“I need you to move your car.”
She turned to the crowd. “Somebody tell me . . . what happened?”
“Somebody got shot,” a teenager on a bicycle said.
The officer stepped between them. “Ma’am, if you don’t move this car — ”
Parker turned back to him. “Please. Who was shot?”
“Get back in your car!”
She’d had enough. “I’m Detective Gibson James’s sister. I’m here because he asked me to come. Please call him and tell him I’m here.”
“I don’t know who he is.”
“He’s a homicide detective!” She dug her phone out of her bag.
Pressing Gibson on speed dial, she waited for him to answer. It rang once, twice, three times.
“Parker, are you here?”
“Yeah, but they won’t let me through the barricade!” She read the officer’s nametag. “Could you tell Sgt. Foster to let me in?”
“Let me talk to him.”
She thrust the phone at the unyielding cop. “He wants to talk to you.”
The man took the phone, listened, then handed it back. He gave her a look that made her wrists hurt. No doubt he was one move away from slapping the cuffs on her. “He said he’d meet you at the tape,” he said through clenched teeth.
“Thank you.” She pushed between two squad cars and headed for the crime-scene tape, which crossed the street in a diagonal out from the building, creating a triangular perimeter. A crowd of press people were already there, snapping pictures as cops came and went out of the Colgate Studios building. The front glass was pierced with bullet holes, near where her reception desk sat. Every light in the building was on, and people moved around in the front room near her desk.
She stopped on the street, needing to keep some distance between
herself and the evil inside.
A reporter from NewsChannel 5 was doing a live remote. “John,
sources tell us that the murdered woman was a receptionist at Colgate
Studios . . .”
A receptionist? She was the receptionist! Who had been watching
the front desk tonight? Erin? Cat? Andy? Heat pounded in her
She couldn’t wait for Gibson. She ducked under the tape and bolted for the door. Another cop almost tackled her, but she twisted away. “Gibson!”
Her brother emerged then. “Let her go. She’s a witness.”
A witness? She hadn’t witnessed anything.
“Who is it?” she cried as she went toward him.
Gibson crossed the grass and took her arms. She stared up into
his face. “Brenna Evans.”
Her mouth fell open, but her throat closed so tight she thought
she might choke. Why had the intern even been here so late? The
Belmont University student had only been working here for three
months, mostly in the afternoons after her classes.
She was dead? So pretty and so young . . .
“Good Tidings was recording in Studio C,” Gibson said, “and
Ron Jasper came out and found her dead on the floor.”
Brenna shot dead . . . while Good Tidings recorded their hymns
in the booth down the hall? She tried to grasp it, but madness
swirled in her head. From somewhere in the fog, she asked, “Did he
see who did it? Did they catch them?”
“No, he didn’t see. She was dead when he found her. Since the booths are soundproof, no one heard the gunfire. She was apparently shot by someone outside, through the window. She was at your desk.”
Horror clutched her throat. “It could have been me . . . I’m usually
here . . .”
“Parker, I know this is tough for you, but I need your help. I
can’t take you into the building, but I need for you to look at some
pictures and see if anything is missing from your desk. We haven’t
ruled out robbery. Rayzo’s checking the security tape to see if anyone
went in after the shooting.”
“Pictures? Yes, show me.”
He pulled the digital camera out of his coat pocket and turned
it on. She watched as he clicked through the pictures he’d taken
of the body. Parker’s lungs seemed to shut down. She couldn’t
catch her breath. The young girl with the Bohemian style lay on
her back where she’d fallen, between Parker’s computer case and
her file cabinet. She wore a long, flowing skirt — lavender, the color of calm — and camel-colored Uggs. She lay on her back, her long, wavy blonde hair matted with blood. Parker’s chair had fallen back with her, and Brenna’s legs seemed tangled in it.
She turned away, unable to look. “Look at this one, Parker,” he
said finally. “Your desk. Everything in place? Anything missing?”
She shook the terror out of her thoughts and focused on the image. Brenna’s textbook lay open, next to a binder with notebook paper in it. A pen lay on top of a blank sheet. A can of Diet Coke sat next to her books. On the other side of the L-shaped desk sat Parker’s laptop — right where she’d left it. Next to that lay Brenna’s backpack, beside Parker’s mug of pens.
“Parker! Did they take anything?”
She ripped her mind from Brenna’s things and forced herself to
scan her desk. “No . . . although these pictures are too small to tell
for sure. Everything looks normal.”
He clicked through several more pictures of her desk taken from
different angles, some zoomed in on the stacks of papers, the pens
in their container, the contents of her top drawer.
Think, she told herself. This is important. There’s a person with
a gun out there, and they could come back. She said, “Did you check
for the keys to the studios?”
“The ones in the second drawer?”
He clicked through more photos and found one of the contents
of that drawer. The keys were still there.
“What are the musicians saying?”
“They all say either you or Cat were at your desk when they
checked in. None of them saw Brenna.”
“Brenna wasn’t on the schedule tonight. Cat relieved me. She
was here when I left.”
“I just talked to her. Cat says Brenna showed up and wanted to
relieve her. Cat was glad to have the night off.”
“That doesn’t make sense. Brenna’s an unpaid intern. Why
would she want to work extra hours?”
“Cat said Brenna thought it was a quiet place to study.”
“It’s not, though. People come and go, talking loud. The phone
rings constantly. People hang out in the kitchen and lounge.” Of course, Gibson knew that as well as she did. He worked on the side as a studio musician. He’d done dozens of sessions at Colgate.
“George is here. I’m about to talk to him. We’ll see if he can shed
George Colgate had opened Colgate Sound Studios ten years ago and built a reputation for keeping the latest and most state-of-the-art equipment in every booth. Major labels rented time for their artists to record here, and Colgate had a staff of house engineers who were the best in the business. Parker had come to work here as a way to network, pay her bills, and get coveted studio time to eecord her own songs for free.
She’d never counted on bullets flying toward her desk. She
wiped her face and realized her hands were cold.
“Nothing’s been stolen or vandalized, according to George,” Gibson said. “But he’s pretty shaken up. The control boards and all the equipment are intact, as far as I can see.” Cold wind whipped across the parking lot, slapping her hair into her face.
Her gaze drifted back to that bullet-pierced window, where camera lights flashed as the crime-scene investigators recorded the scene in all its cruel detail. She should have been here. If she had, that girl who had no stake in this company — wouldn’t have been killed. But then Parker herself would have been sitting there . . .
Parker glanced back at the crowd just outside the crime-scene
tape. WSMV had a camera crew here, and their lead reporter was
lit up like a hologram in the dark night.
There were people to be notified. Brenna’s parents, her roommate, her boyfriend . . . It was wrong to just leave her on the floor like that while the media vultures circled around the crime tape, the window lit up. “Why can’t you close the shades? Everyone’s looking.”
“They can’t see her on the floor,” Gibson said. “And we can’t close them, because there might be evidence on the windows or the shades, just like they are.”
Of course. She’d helped Gibson study for his homicide detective
exams. She knew the procedure. Blood spatters were important.
One stray drop of blood could tell them about the angle of the gun,
the caliber, the distance from which it was fired. “Gibson, who’s
going to tell her family?”
“We’ll have an officer go.”
She ran her fingers through her hair. “What about her roommate and the people
who know her at school?”
“We only notify next of kin.” He clicked off his camera. “I’ve got
to get back in.”
She stood frozen in the cold night and watched her brother cross the yard back into the building. The night strobed with blue-andwhite lights. The media snapped pictures of her, like she was somebody.
She didn’t want to talk. If they didn’t have Brenna’s name yet,
maybe the parents could be notified first. She thought of Brenna’s
roommate and boyfriend. They would hear it on the news, probably
Parker thought of going to Belmont, less than a mile away, to
notify them herself. But she didn’t even know which dorm Brenna
lived in. She’d never asked Brenna her roommate’s name. Brenna’s
boyfriend had come by once or twice to bring her lunch when she
was working during the day. He looked young and untarnished.
Almost innocent. Way too innocent to have a murdered girlfriend.
What would it do to him?
On the other hand, maybe he was the killer. Maybe this was
about a failed relationship. She turned on her phone and pressed
her brother’s number again.
He answered quickly. “Yeah?”
“Gibson, I just remembered she has a boyfriend. His name is
Chase something. Kind of an Irish last name. Mac-something.”
“Okay, we’ll talk to him.”
“It shouldn’t be hard to find him. Check her phone’s speed dial.”
“Parker, I know how to do my job.”
“I know. It’s just . . .” She knew she’d better just let him handle it. But he could be flakey sometimes, and he was new at this. Since he’d been promoted to Homicide, he’d only had to solve three cases, all of them pretty cut and dried. This one might be different.
She turned off her phone and stood there a moment, unable to
move or think. Tears rushed to her eyes and she put her hand over
her mouth. How could this happen? She’d never dreamed Gibson
would be investigating the death of someone she knew.
Turning, she walked through the night of blue strobes, cameras
flashing like paparazzi.
“Ma’am, could you tell us your name?”
“Did you know the victim?”
“Do the police know who killed her?”
She ignored the reporters and ducked under the tape, and went
back toward her car. Tomorrow she’d wind up in the paper with a
caption that said “Unidentified Woman Weeps at Door of Colgate
“Ma’am, can you confirm the victim’s name?”
Parker looked at the reporter dressed in a black Armani suit, his face painted for his close-ups. She wiped her eyes. “Please don’t give her name tonight. Just keep that out of it until her family and friends are told.”
The man kept pressing. “We’re told that it’s Parker James in there.
That she’s the receptionist at Colgate. Can you confirm that?”
Parker’s heart jolted, and she opened her mouth to correct them.
But then she thought of Brenna’s eighteen-year-old friends watching
the news while waiting for David Letterman, and learning
that she’d been murdered on Music Row. What if Brenna’s parents
weren’t notified before newscasters began broadcasting her name? Would people call them, crying, wanting to know if it was true?
No, she couldn’t let that happen, not if she could help it. Brenna
had been at Parker’s desk when she died. The least Parker could do
was to confuse the media’s reporting. She cleared her throat. Her
voice sounded far away. “I can confirm that Parker James is the
Gleefully, the reporter backed away, ready to do his standup for the audience at home. He would probably broadcast that Parker had been murdered. Soon the other channels would be announcing that, too.
What a mess.
She got into her car, sick with the thought that her family and friends would be devastated now. What had she been thinking? She clicked on her phone, pressed her mother on speed dial. Her voicemail quickly took over, which probably meant she was on the phone. Lynn James couldn’t abide Call Waiting.
“Mom, this is Parker, alive and well.” She sniffed and looked around her car for a Kleenex. “I wanted you to know that the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Her mother would love that she’d quoted Mark Twain. Parker found a tissue and dabbed at her nose. “Seriously, I’m alive. Don’t believe what you see on the news. It wasn’t me who was murdered. It’s just a stupid...misunderstanding.”
She hung up and sat for a moment. Her mother would let LesPaul,
her other brother, know. But Parker would need to call her dad.
A reporter knocked on her window, and others began to surround
her car. She punched the lock button, then dug in her purse
for her keys and couldn’t find them. A camera flashed through the
windshield — as if they thought she was the murderer, or maybe
Brenna herself, risen from the dead after dusting herself off.
How could she get rid of them? She thought of all the ways she’d managed to help her famous friend Serene avoid reporters. A flash of brilliance struck her, and she rolled her window down. “They’re going to be moving the body out in the next few minutes,” she yelled.
Suddenly she was history. They lit out for the story unfolding at
the door of Colgate — hounds on the scent of a corpse.