The audience had gathered, the orchestra music had swelled and the curtains had opened to reveal a scene of absolute horror.
There, dangling by their necks, lifeless and pale, were the three stars of the “Post-Christmas Chorale Spectacular and Fundraiser,” five feet above center stage.
The dead women were Ella, Sarah and Matilda Dubois. Back at the turn of the century the sensational singing trio of French beauties had risen to fame as the “Three French Chickadees.” Over the decades their increasing age, weight and persnicketiness had earned them the mock title the “Three French Hens.”
They dangled like limp chicken carcasses in a butcher’s window now, thought Nicky Saint, gentleman detective. Three dead women on the third day of Christmas. This was going to be one of those cases.
“I heard these dames were set for a comeback,” a reporter at the crime scene said to his fellow newshound as they chewed gum, snapped pictures and scribbled in their notepads. “I heard they were supposed to sing a couple of numbers in that new big time motion picture musical with What’s Her Name, you know, the movie actress, the blonde one.”
“They’re all blonde ones now,” the other reporter replied. “Besides, you heard wrong. These old French biddies have been recording their voices in movies for years, just they never get the credit. They sing over some beautiful starlet’s caterwauling so’s it sounds like she’s got real talent.”
“Ah, everybody knows that,” the first reporter said. “I mean these broads were supposed to sing on the big screen as themselves. They were all going to star as What’s Her Name’s aunties in her next musical. Geez, why can’t I think of her name? She married that football star, that quarterback fella, about a month ago, you remember?”
“How they gonna dub her voice if the three women that provide it for her are on screen at the same time?”
“Beats me. Movie magic, I guess.”
“Show’s over, boys,” a police officer said coming across the stage to shoo them away. “You too, whitey,” he said to Nicky, glaring at the detective’s stark white locks.
“Ah, come on. The show ain’t over until all three fat ladies sing,” one of the reporters joked.
“The show never even started,” the cop replied. “Now, get.”
Nicky Saint relit his pipe and adjusted his overcoat’s collar to head out into the cold winter night. “Mind telling us what the opening number was supposed to be?” he asked the policeman.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure it was ‘Ave Maria.’ Why?”
“No reason,” Nicky said.
Ave Maria, Hail Mary. The clue itself was a bit of a Hail Mary, but at least it was something to go on.