Miranda had seen airplane crashes, from two-seater training planes that had tangled into telephone wires to a shattered C-5M Super Galaxy, the US military’s largest transport jet. Curiously, the two extremes had been her first and second solo investigations as a newly certified investigator.
She had traveled from frozen glaciers in the remote wilderness to a shattered apartment complex close by an airfield, and out to remote desert islands.
But the one in Seattle’s McCaw Hall opera house was perhaps the strangest crash site yet.
There was a crash, they’d seen the hole high above the stage from the outside. Except there was little sign of it inside.
They’d come in through the stage right door—the right-hand side as they stood on the stage and faced the seating. The offstage area was empty. A massive, multi-tiered set in the form of a stone castle dominated the stage. Through gaps in the set and side curtains she could see the numerous firemen and their hoses that had been strung into the opera house from the stage left side.
The stage was a hangar-sized space bigger than either of hers, on her island or down at the Tacoma office. What’s more, unlike her hangars, it was a hundred feet high. It extended twenty feet to this side of the area visible from the house seating, and seventy feet to the other. Andi could park ten of their new helicopters in here without overlapping the rotors.
Today was their first local investigation since she’d purchased the MD 902. She’d wanted a chance to study rotorcraft flight dynamics personally, but was also pleased at how conveniently and quickly it had been able to transport them to a crash site. Two major advantages.
Looking abandoned in the middle of the stage, the elaborate set must be for the upcoming production of Turandot. It had never been one of her favorites; Puccini was so overdramatic and the set reflected that. The towering Chinese palace was, in turn, dominated by a great dragon hunched as if ready to attack.
He was now a tragic dragon, scorched and drooping as if burned by his own fire.
Miranda considered for a moment but was unsure if that would count as a joke or not.
Much of the set was scorched; holes burned through the facing material. The exposed innards were incongruously modern supports for an ancient Chinese palace. Everything was either drenched with water or spray foam. It all smelled curiously fresh, like a spring day right after a rain shower.
The proscenium opening that should reveal the house seating was blocked by a vast fire curtain. Its face was also scorched with a splash of fire, though in the wrong configuration to have issued from the dragon.
Jeremy and Taz were crisscrossing the stage to take photographs, hopping over firehoses and dodging rushing rescue workers. Mike and Holly were simply standing and watching them.
Miranda tapped the curtain material, fiberglass over a metal frame. The only thing it allowed to escape into the house was the steady stream of water sheeting across the stage.
Even as she watched, a small group of stagehands rushed in and began laying sandbags along the base to stem the flow. They didn’t have nearly enough and the water simply flowed between them.
The simple solution would be to lay one of the charged firehoses along the entire length. That would hold back up to three inches of water. Was that related to the crash or not related to the crash? She wasn’t sure if she should speak or not.
Knowing that would bother her until she found a new topic to focus on, she pulled out her personal notebook and added an entry: “Research the design, operation, and fire resistance of theatrical fire curtains.”
Then she tucked the notebook away and looked around once more.
Something was missing.
Which she’d always observed was much harder to notice than what was actually there.
It took her two full, slow turns to realize what it was amid the wounded grandeur of the emperor’s palace.
“Where’s the plane?”
Holly pointed aloft as if the plane was still flying overhead.
And indeed, after a fashion, it was.
As her eyes tracked upward, she spotted several artificial trees high in the loft that were still badly scorched like the aftermath of a forest fire.
A hundred feet above the stage, on top of the vast gridwork of steel supports, lay the airplane, or at least the dim outline of one viewed between the gaps.
A plane flying over the charred remains of a fake forest.
How terribly operatic.