The Victim: Meet the Characters of Magnolia Bluff

Review: Everything is great until the lead singer picks up her favorite guitar, touches the strings, and turns into a fireworks display.

Can lyrics from Billy Joel songs and a yellow throat toucan help Bliss solve the murder of Loco-Motion’s lead singer?

The entire Doyle clan is celebrating Easter at Old Man Thompson’s barn. Though Bliss isn’t blood-related, they insist she be a part, which kind-a makes sense since months ago she uncovered the murderer of patriarch Merrick Doyle, who now resides, in spirit, in the general store.

The barn walls vibrate with the beat from the popular band Loco-Motion. Suddenly, the lead singer lights up like fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Nina Warren has been electrocuted, and things look bad for the family. After all, except for Bliss, Diablo the toucan, and the band members, the only attendees are blood-related.

This puts a giant snarl in the investigation.

Cindy Davis

Amanda blasts away the resulting uncomfortable silence with a distraction. “When is your next gig, Nina? That’s what it’s called, right? A gig.”

Nina pulls in a breath and lets it out in a huff of rum-scented air. Calmer, the cutters now in her pocket, the conflict seemingly forgotten, she says, “Yeah. We’re taking a few days off for Easter. Then we’ve got a heavy schedule starting just before Memorial Day, running through the summer.”

“How are the renovations coming on your music room?” I ask.

My friend Whitney Gale is an interior decorator. Several weeks ago, Nina hired her to break out a wall between her house and garage—the same garage that apparently contains the toolbox—and soundproof it so they could record their music. The job should have been done ages ago. Whitney’s been just about pulling out her hair with Nina’s ever-changing, ever-increasing demands.

“It’s going really well,” she says. “Whitney promises she’ll be finished in two weeks.” She pulls up her left sleeve—revealing the eerily detailed, already mentioned skull—and glances at a white-banded watch. “Time to get back to work.” She removes the umbrella from the glass and drains the remainder in one gulp. Then she hands the glass to Arlene. “Hope you enjoy the final set.”

She dashes to the stage where the band members—bass player Philip Newsome, and drummer Hank Summers—are waiting. Philip appears to be of Filipino descent with his deep brown eyes and near-black hair. He’s got high cheekbones and a knowing demeanor—I guess you’d call it confident. Hank is kind of the opposite, not only in looks but in manner. His skin is the pale white belonging to a person who rarely goes outdoors. His hair is sandy brown and I get the idea it wouldn’t take much to make him run from trouble and never stop till he reaches a precipice.

The trio launches into their version of Stairway to Heaven. Since it’s not a great dancing, we sit and sing along with the words.

I pay attention, the Billy Joel lyrics in my head clashing with those of Led Zeppelin. I get up, intending to move about the room, alert, watching for signs of impending catastrophe.

Ciara, owner and chief mechanic at Doyle’s garage, sweeps curly brown hair from her face as she bends to kiss her mother’s cheek. “I’m heading home. I’ll come back first thing in the morning to help clean up this mess.”

“No need,” Arlene says, “I’ve hired a cleaning crew.”

“Seriously?” Ciara is delighted. She kisses her mom again, then leaps back, the ruffled layers of her western outfit exposing a vine tattoo snaking up her left leg. I can’t help wondering if she and Nina have ever gotten together to compare artwork.

I hug Ciara goodbye and continue my self-imposed sentry duty. I get a few steps and realize Hannah is beside me. I explain the lyrics and she groans. We stand back-to-back, to get the widest view of the room. I’m asking myself how the wire cutters could come into this. How can they be used 1-to execute a murder, or 2- to help us zero in on the culprit?

The song ends. Hannah and I face the stage to applaud. Nina replaces the blue guitar in the stand near the drummer. She picks up the other guitar. It’s bright red with gold sparkles. She moves front-and-center. “Everyone up for Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean?” she shouts into the microphone.

The crowd cheers. More people scurry out to dance. Hannah and I move to make room for them. Although I love dancing almost more than anything, I can’t until I figure out the reason for the lyrics.

As the drummer thumps out a standard beat, Nina fingers the first chord and plucks a note. A cascade of yellow sparks spray from the guitar. They’re followed by unrelenting showers of them. Hannah and I duck. Next there’s a harsh high-pitched whistling—like a bottle rocket.

All around, people cheer and shout thinking it’s part of the show. After all, the dance floor is crowded and they can’t see. But Hannah and I can. Nina withers to the floor, the shower of sparks still gushing forth. Next comes a discordant riff and snapping of guitar strings as the bass player flings his instrument and races to her.

The crowd finally realizes the situation. Several people rush the stage. “Don’t touch her!” Hannah shouts.

I’m not sure the bass player hears because the place has erupted in bedlam, but he keeps back while the drummer leaps across and unplugs the power strip. The sparks and whistling fizzle to a stop. In the resulting silence, the smell of charred flesh oozes into the air. My stomach lurches.

“Oh my god, she’s fainted,” says someone nearby. “Nina’s fainted.”

“No,” comes Hannah’s soft voice. “She’s been electrocuted.”

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