A Subway Station Murder Mystery in New York

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Traversing the New York City subway system can be scary enough. But now the public has been invited to call a special phone number inside the Canal Street subway station to be guided through a murder mystery. A theater group sponsors this piece of "public art."

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

In New York City, there's word of a murder in the Canal Street Subway Station, and it's the center of an intense investigation, but not by police, because it's not a real murder. But fans of what could be called interactive payphone theater are getting a chance to track a killer through the catacombs of Gotham. NPR's Mike Pesca is on the case.

(Soundbite of subway train)

MIKE PESCA: The hydraulic hiss of the J Train coiled its way through my head teasingly. The hardest part of memory is knowing what you forgot, like the time Flat Nose Fannucci took up clog dancing and mistook my face for the Paradise Club. But this was different. These corridors were dark.

I tried to think of them for what they were. The signs on the walls said subway station, but to me it looked like a labyrinth, and I had to get to a pay phone, punch in the numbers, wait for that voice.

Unidentified Woman: You are a super investigator.

PESCA: If that's true, sweetheart, why am I 100 feet underground, holding a dirty pay phone, chasing whispers, straining to hear myself.

All right, Mike, it's me again, your inner voice. So there's a door in the station, a door that if you hold your ear up to it close, you might even hear a girl crying out for help. Or is she screaming, Mike? The door's on the N/Q platform on the bottom level.

Before I get there, let me explain how I got here. That inner voice of mine sounds a lot like this guy I met a half hour ago, up there on the surface, a moak named Holsopple, Ryan Holsopple. He called himself an artist. This thing I was caught inside of, he said it was a game. He was the one who decided where it was to be played.

Mr. HOLSOPPLE: I thought Canal Street has more of those narrow hallways, and it definitely has more of that film noir feel to it, the dripping and the smells.

PESCA: And Holsopple spun out a crazy yarn. There was a girl, see. There's always a girl.

Unidentified Woman: I can still see her neck, her long thin neck in my fingers, Mike.

PESCA: How did she know my name? We'll get back to that, but this dame with a voice that swipes through you like a metro card, she needs my help. I go to the Canal Street station, I pick up the blower, she takes me to the kinds of places even the bindle punks avoid, the far end of the 6 platform, a door that's better left ignored.

There are numbers, a code. Call those numbers in from the right phone and there she is, and there you are, your thoughts driving you to the next clue or the next call. Is it you, or is it this artist guy Holsopple pulling a fast one?

Mr. HOLSOPPLE: Oh, I play your inner voice. When you the participant calls in, you're put into the role of the private investigator. Mike Sharpie is his name, but when you start listening to the clues and stuff, you'll hear that that voice of Mike Sharpie comes through, and it's your inner voice, so you're kind of hearing yourself think.

PESCA: And what I'm thinking is all these clues, were they here before? Are they everywhere and I never noticed them? Holsopple says he just showed up one day, didn't ask anyone, took some notes and like that he was gone. A couple days later and a few sawbucks lighter and he's got this whole game set up, clue after clue, call after call, and the boys at City Hall are none the wiser.

It's pretty simple, really. There's an answering service that knows with amice you're calling from. Call from the wrong phone or punch in the wrong number and no dice, palooka, but call it in right, and that sweet Parisian kitten will just purr.

Unidentified Woman: You are a super investigator.

PESCA: Thanks, sister. You've got a voice like a Stradivarius, but I've got a feeling you're packing something else in that violin case of yours, but that's Canal Street for you. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

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