03-01-2012, 03:51 PM
Chaper Eight: The Suspect
Luke Blade was on top of the world. He seemed to have it all--money, fame, adulation, talent, good looks and charm. His face was on every entertainment periodical in print, his merchandise flew off the store shelves: CDs, T-shirts, posters, jackets, jewelry, anything with the Luke Blade name on it. A men's cologne had been marketed by L'Oreal called Blade, packaged in a Mind, Body and Spirt triangle-shaped bottle. Whatever Luke touched turned to cold, hard cash, and he was raking it all in.
He had friends among the glitterati, beautiful women at his beck and call. He could be found at the local hot spots, dancing and drinking until dawn. But there was always work to do. Luke had his own office in midtown New York City, not far from his duplex across from Central Park. Unfortunatly for Luke, it overlooked the gutted remains of Ground Zero, so he made it a point to keep the blinds closed. He still recalled the horror of that day, as millions of Americans did. He tried to shut out the memory as he shut out the view.
In mid-spring, 2007, Luke Blade produced his biggest show ever: a three-night extravaganza he called "Death Becomes Me". The site he chose was on 44th Street, where Houdini made a full-grown elephant vanish in 1917. It was Luke's homage to the greatest magician and escape artist in history. The show took two years to plan; every detail was carefully laid out. Nothing would be left to chance.
During that time, there was dissention in the ranks of the Family. Luke's assistant, Vienna Hyatt, and his stunt coordinator, Austin Cannon, had been dating for most of 2006. Vienna, however, was being stalked by one Rupert Lanaghan, the Irish-born manager of Magic Paradise, a shop selling magic and illusion props and kits. Lanaghan first met the beautiful Vienna when she came into his store to pick up some props for Luke. Lanaghan claimed later that she was "a big flirt, and may have taken it the wrong way," but records showed he became obsessed with her. Vienna had to file a restraining order to keep Lanaghan at bay, finally culminating in his arrest in September of 2006, and twice more in late September and early October of that same year, for harrassment and criminal trespass. He was sentenced in early 2007 to six months' probation, with compulsory attendance to anger management classes.
Austin Cannon, for his part, was weary of doing all the hard work of co-ordinating Luke's stunts but not getting any of the credit. He was paid well enough, but he was dissatisfied with working behind the scenes. Things came to a head when Austin approached Luke's RV one day during rehearsals. He knocked on the door, but no one answered. He opened the door and looked inside, discovering, to his shock and disbelief, Vienna asleep beside Luke in his bed. From the pile of clothes on the floor, it was clear that Vienna was not there just to ward off Luke's night terrors. Austin was ready to leave the Family right then and there, and told Luke so in no uncertain terms. To Luke, this was betrayal. No one left the Family for any reason.
Vienna, herself, was causing grief for Luke as well. Two weeks before the "Death Becomes Me" show, Luke fired her for allegedly selling his secrets to the tabloids for an undisclosed amount of money. Like Bill Whitmore before, Luke felt he had been betrayed by someone whom he had trusted and loved. For Vienna Hyatt, it would have tragic consequences.
The first night of "Death Becomes Me" arrived. An enormous crowd mobbed 44th Street to see what the great illusionist was going to do. Even those who were farthest back from the stage area could see the huge rotary saw blade suspended high above their heads. Luke, wearing a simple sweatshirt and jeans with a black ski cap but no shoes or stockings, perched himself above the stage, screaming out loud, "Are you ready?" Luke was lowered onto a suspended platform specially designed to accomodate what was to come. He was held down by his wrists and ankles by two female assistants. A large metal bracket was secured over his waist.
Suddenly the huge saw blade began spinning rapidly, lowering itself onto Luke's prone body. Screams and cheers filled the air as the blade "cut" through Luke's body through the bracket. Luke was severed in two, but there was no blood. The two platforms swung above the ground, one bearing Luke's upper torso, the other his legs. The first night was a rousing success.
Meanwhile, Raymond Rogers, a seventy-five year old security guard, had been patrolling the area around an abandoned theater. He had left for a while to check on the Luke Blade stunt. When all was satisfactory, he walked back to the theater. Noticing the backstage door was open, he went inside to investigate. What he saw almost gave him a heart attack.
On the stage of the theater, two boxes with moons and stars painted on them were standing apart from one another. A pair of women's feet stuck out of one, cuffed together with plastic handcuffs. Rogers saw the blood on the floor, and the severed remains of a young, blond haired woman, her mouth stuffed with a red silk kerchief. The elderly guard rushed out to call for help, then collapsed. He was treated for shock by paramedics. Investigation by the police revealed the identity of the woman as Vienna Hyatt, former assistant to Luke Blade.
CSI specialists took photos, gathered evidence such as the saw used to kill Hyatt, used electromagnetic film to pick up footprints from the stage area, and wheeled the two halves of the victim to the morgue. One officer stated that "Of all the top ten, this one is the most twisted."
The autopsy revealed serration marks identical to the saw used to sever Hyatt's body in the box. The saw itself, a standard hand saw found in any hardware store, was tested for fingerprints on the handle. The red silk kerchief revealed to have the Magic Paradise logo. There was also an "invisible" tattoo on Hyatt's right forearm, visible only under infrared light, of the triangular Mind, Body, Spirit logo.
Fingerprints on the magician's box were found to belong to Rupert Lanaghan. His arrest record and complaints filed against him by Hyatt seemed to confirm his guilt. However, on the night of the murder, Lanaghan stated he was at his anger management class as part of his probation. A quick inquiry confirmed this, and Lanaghan was cleared as a suspect.
Luke himself was questioned about Vienna. "Vienna chose money over Family," he said to the investigating officers. She had been motivated by greed when she tried to sell Luke's secrets to the tabloids. He seemed to show no grief over her; it was as if her death was justified as far as he was concerned. The interrogation was interrupted by Austin Cannon, who wanted to go through the safety checks for the next stunt.
"If that's all, detectives," Luke said dryly, "I have to light myself on fire."
The second night promised to be as spectacular as the first. Luke Blade was going to be a human torch for four hours, the longest anyone could endure. If he succeeded, he would make the Guinness Book of World Records for 2007. If he failed, he would be severly burned, even killed. Luke had rehearsed this for months on end, using gallons of stunt gel to protect him from the flames.
"Someone please light me on fire!" Luke screamed.
Cannon came up with a blowtorch and touched off Luke's alcohol-soaked clothes. The timer started. Luke walked around and around the stage area in flames, but showing no signs of distress. Every half-hour, a couple of crew members covered him with a sheet soaked in flammable liquid, reigniting him. As the final minutes ticked by, the suspense grew. The audience counted off the final seconds as if it was New Year's Eve. At the end, the flaming figure fell to the ground, doused by a fire extingusher. When the CO2 cleared, there was nothing but charred clothing. The "assistant" who held the extinguisher pulled off his hooded sweatshirt. It had been Luke himself, posing as his own assistant.
The two CSI officers were present when Luke finished his act. Mac Taylor received a call on his cell phone, urging him to come to an alleyway three blocks from the show. A corpse had been found, burned to death. Taylor immediatly identified the body as Austin Cannon, the stunt engineer. Cannon's footprint had been taken from the theater where Vienna Hyatt had been murdered, but he could not be placed at the time of the crime. It did not match the bloody ones on the stage. And now Cannon could not be questioned for anything. A gasoline can was found in the trash dumpster not too far away. Stranger still, a magician's wand was found inside, with one end charred.
The two murders shook New York to the core. Luke showed co-operation by cancelling his final performance to allow the investigation to go on. Fingerprints were taken from the gas can. The charred wand was examined thoroughly, and one tiny speck of human tissue was retreived from it. The speck was taken to the lab for DNA testing. There was no record of the person's identity on file, but there was one of his father: George Clark.