Authors: Steve Demaree
Murder in the Winter
All Rights Reserved
This book is dedicated to the two people Ilove the most and whose love I deserve the least, my wife Nell and my daughterKelly. May God continue to bless me with their presence in my life.
This book is also dedicated to Paula Messer,who bought extra copies of The Hilltop Murder Mysteryfor her familymembers, so that they would not take her copy away from her.
This book is also dedicated to nine-year-oldAmy Shepherd, who has readThe Hilltop Murder Mysteryfour times andtold her teacher it is her favorite book.
May each of them and each of you enjoy thisbook.
Books by SteveDemaree
Dekker CozyMystery Series
52 Steps to Murder
Murder in the Winter
Murder In The Library
Murder at Breakfast?
Murder at the HighSchool Reunion
Murder at the Art& Craft Fair
SantangeloPG-Rated Mystery/Thriller Series
Murder in the Dark
Picture Them Dead
AylesfordPlace Humorous Christian Romance Series
Neighborhood Hi Jinx
Lexington & Me
Reflecting Upon God’sWord
Cast of Characters
Lt. Cy Dekker -The lead homicide detective of the Hilldale PoliceDepartment
Sgt. Lou Murdock -Lt. Dekker’s partner
Sidney Longworth –The owner of Overlook Inn and a well-known director ofplays.
Estelle Longworth –Sidney Longworth’s wife
Antoine Le Blanc –The chef at Overlook Inn
Michael –Thesous chef at Overlook Inn
Justin –Theserver at Overlook Inn
Manfred Mitchuson –The handyman at Overlook Inn
Mrs. Mitchuson –Mr. Mitchuson’s wife and the maid at Overlook Inn
Myles Mycroft - One of the registered guests at the inn
Arthur Plankton –Another guest at the inn
Mrs. Isabel Dukenfield –Another registered guest at the inn
Claude Williams –A late arrival at the inn
Tony McArthur -A guest at the inn and an actor who lives atOppenheimer Arms Apartments. He says he was out of town when the murders tookplace.
Lena Crouch- The manager of Oppenheimer Arms Apartments
Arthur Rothschild –A resident of Oppenheimer Arms who is confined to awheelchair.
Martin Mulroney –A resident of Oppenheimer Arms who visited the inn indisguise.
Carter Thornton –A resident of Oppenheimer Arms who was considered thebest of the actors. He visited the inn in disguise.
Matthew Simon –Another resident of Oppenheimer Arms who visited theinn in disguise.
Virgil Profit –A resident of Oppenheimer Arms who claims to know noneof his neighbors nor anyone at the inn.
Bob Gravitt –A resident of Oppenheimer Arms who made reservations at the inn andthen did not show up.
Ray Phelps –A plumber with Burris Plumbing who drifted into town and laterdisappeared mysteriously.
Yolanda Lovely –A young blonde who made a pass at Lt. Dekker and RayPhelps.
Lt. George Michaelson -A friend of Lt. Dekker and a fellow member of theHilldale Police Department
Frank Harris -The medical examiner
Sam Schumann-A policeman who does much of Lt. Dekker’s investigative work
Louie Palona - The man at headquarters who Lt. Dekker turns to forcomputer help.
Officer Dan Davis -A young policeman who helps Lt. Dekker and Sgt.Murdock from time to time.
Heloise Humphert -Lt. Dekker’s irritating next-door neighbor
Twinkle Toes -Heloise Humphert’s dog
Rosie -Thedaytime waitress at the Blue Moon Diner
Thelma -Thenighttime waitress at the Blue Moon Diner
Betty McElroy -A friend of Lt. Dekker’s whom he sometimes takes outto dinner
Thelma Lou Spencer -Sgt. Murdock’s girlfriend
Mark–The boy who mows Lt. Dekker’s yard, rakes his leaves,and shovels his snow.
One mid-January day I lay in bed fighting the urge tokick the covers off, roll over, and spring from the bed. I had almost convincedmyself to attempt such a dastardly deed when I remembered that too muchexercise so early in the morning is not good, especially for someone of mygirth and experience. But then no one of my girth and experience could possiblyspring from anything unless he sat on Old Faithful.
As I lay there, I pondered hypnotizing myself, hopingto make myself snore. In the midst of my pondering the phone rang. I rolledover and lunged for the obtrusive instrument. On my third try my hand connectedwith the heavy receiver. I lifted it, mumbled something, and realized thatsomeone was talking into the mouthpiece. I flipped the receiver and mumbledagain.
“Are you up yet?” came the question from the phone.
The stupid question sounded like something that wouldcome from the mouth of a small child at some pre-dawn hour on Christmasmorning, but even half awake I recognized the voice of the man who asked thestupid question as that of my friend and partner in solving crime.
Before I get too far into the conversation we had thatday, let me introduce myself and my telephoning friend. I’m Lt. Cy Dekker ofthe Hilldale Police Department. My partner is Sgt. Lou Murdock. Together wemake up the entire homicide division. Lou and I grew up in Hilldale, went toschool together, and have been friends since before I can remember. We builttree houses and snow forts together, and double-dated whenever we could findtwo girls who would go out with the two of us. Lou was the best man at mywedding, and he, along with other members of the Hilldale Police Department, wasthere for me when I lost my beloved Eunice to cancer after only five years ofmarriage. Lou’s been there for me ever since, and I hope I’ve been there forhim.
Two weeks prior to that morning’s phone call, with thedepartment’s blessing, the two of us entered into semi-retirement. In our casethis meant we will continue to solve all the murder cases within Hilldale’sjurisdiction, but once a case is solved we are free to lean back in ourrecliners and get to know Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Philo Vance, ElleryQueen, Nero Wolfe, Sam Spade, and Phillip Marlowe, courtesy of Myrtle Evans,owner of Hilldale’s Scene of the Crime Bookstore, a used bookstore housed in awood framed structure, and littered with yellow crime scene tape hanging fromits bushes. Actually, I wouldn’t exactly say our new reading material was courtesyof Mrs. Evans. While she did recommend seven books to both of us, she pickedour pockets to the tune of $148.23 each before we walked out of her store withthe books.
Now that I have introduced the two of us, let merepeat the question Lou repeated to me that morning.
“Are you up yet?”
“What constitutes up?” I asked my esteemed colleague.
The good sergeant laughed.
“Well, do you want to know why I called, Cy?”
Somehow the truth didn’t sound like the appropriate response.
“Go ahead. Spill it,” I said instead.
“I got a message.”
“You mean a message message?”
“God spoke to you?”
“You’re the one who says He speaks to me. I only knowthat I got a message.”
“Well, you might as well tell me now. What was the message?”
“Ford Theater and the Bates Motel.”
“So, you’re saying that if someone invites me to aplay and to go somewhere afterward to spend the night, I shouldn’t go?”
“I wouldn’t recommend it.”
“I don’t think there’s any danger of anyone asking meout.”
“You mean your next-door neighbor moved?”
“No, but if she asked me out, I would shoot first andask questions later.”
I heard chuckling on the other end of the line.
His chuckle gave me time to think of what Lou’s callmeant. In due time Lou and I would discern the meaning of his message. If itwas like each of the other messages Lou had received over the years, it meantthat another murder had been committed, and Lou and I would go to work solvingthe case. Retirement, as we had come to embrace it, would end, at least for afew days.
I continued to think until my colleague broke the silence.
“I assume you haven’t gotten a call yet.”
“No, and my beeper hasn’t gone off. Besides, no one murdersanyone this early.”
“It could’ve happened last night. Sometimes they don’tfind the body until the next day.”
“I suppose so.”
“And do you realize the bad news? We got eight inchesof snow last night. Talk about timing. I’d rather curl up with a good book andhave the Blue Moon bring me my meals.”
“Are you saying you don’t want to be around me?”
“No, feel free to stop by the Blue Moon and pick upenough food for both of us. You know where I live. I just dread getting out inthis kind of weather.”
“Not any more than I do. I’ve become adjusted to retirement.Maybe God just gave you this message to see how we’d react.”
“Maybe so, but if He did, I don’t think we passed thetest.”
Yesterday morning’s forecast had called for mostlycloudy skies with a possible flurry or two. Must’ve been a couple of bigflurries, because if my partner says eight inches, he means eight inches.Someone gave Lou a rain gauge for Christmas one year, and he actually put ittogether and hung it outside his apartment window. I too have a device formeasuring snow. In the days of my youth, sometimes a teacher would use asimilar gauge to whack my knuckles. Today, I occasionally plop my device downinto the snow, but on most days I leave it in the house and use it periodicallyif I need to draw a straight line.
I forgot about measuring precipitation and returned tothe matter at hand.
“Well, I guess I’d better get off here in case the departmentcalls.”
No one who still owns a heavy, black phone with a rotarydial has call waiting. The phone still worked and was only a chore when I triedto pick it up. Since my number was unlisted and people seldom called my house,I didn’t waste a lot of exercise lifting my phone. Besides, the department toldme they would use our beepers to get in touch with us if anything happened.
I sat up and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. I needed ashower. Then, I’d take time for my daily devotional reading and a short prayer.After taking care of one and two, I would leave to pick Lou up. I tried to keepmy priorities right. After all, God was around on the first day. Murders didn’thappen until after He had made a few imperfect people. I needed to put Himfirst.
I opened the back door and stared at the whiteness. Itwas one of the few times when I was sorry I didn’t own a pair of sunglasses. Briefly blinded, I stood there until my eyes adjusted to the brightnessthat only snow can produce, then turned and looked at what used to beLightning, my Volkswagen bug. Normally Lightning shone bright yellow, but onthat morning it more closely resembled what I might look like if I had fallenon my back just prior to an avalanche. A white blob in the middle withoccasional yellow spots on the side. Okay, maybe I don’t have any yellow spots.At least not yet.
I dragged my feet through the snow as I shuffled towardmy vehicle. I intended to start it and let it warm up while I brushed away thesnow from the windshield and the windows. At least that was my plan until Iarrived at my vehicle and spotted an envelope stuck to the snow where my windshieldused to be. Actually my windshield was still there, eight inches under theenvelope.Was my next-door neighbor sending me love letters?I shudderedat the thought.
I took to the envelope the way Lou approaches a newbag of M&Ms. I tore open the envelope with my teeth, spat paper into thesnow, and extracted a folded piece of paper. I opened it and read a messagethat had been cut from a magazine.
BE AT OVERLOOK INN AT PRECIPICE POINT THIS WEEKEND. IHAVE MURDERED, AND YOU CAN BE THERE TO WATCH THE BODIES FALL. NEITHER YOU,ROTUND DOOFUS LT. DEKKER, NOR YOUR STOOGE, SGT. MURDOCK, WILL BE ABLE TO STOPME.
I scanned the note. All the words were spelled right,and the commas were in the right place. At least I think so. But the messagedidn’t make sense. If he or she had already murdered someone, how could Ipossibly arrive before the bodies fell? Could it be that someone leaned themagainst a door? After getting nowhere with the grammar or the method of murder,I changed focus. I remembered that Overlook Inn had reopened after sittingempty for several years. It sat at the far end of the county, somewhere betweenten and fifteen miles from my house. I had not been out that way in years, butthen there was no reason to go that way unless you were going to Overlook Inn.The road goes no farther, and once you pass the city limits there’s not much tosee except trees. The more I thought of it, the more I wondered why teenagersnever took their dates to such a secluded place. Or maybe, they did. I’m out ofthe loop about such things, so there’s no way I’d find out about something likethat unless one or both of the young people were murdered. Speaking of murder,evidently someone thought the Overlook Inn would be a good place to commit one.While it might be a good place to murder someone, it would be a bad place fromwhich to make a getaway. Only one road in or out. But then that road was seldomtraveled. At least there wouldn’t be any neighbors to see him make his hastyretreat. His only other way out would be over the cliff where he’d end up makinga splat on the rocks well below, right next to the lemmings. Was that what themurderer meant by “watch the bodies fall?” I pictured someone lining up peopleat Precipice Point and pushing the last person in line causing a domino effectwhere screaming victims were knocked over the cliff. I shuddered at the thoughtand then regained my senses. Well, whatever senses I had maintained in thefrigid weather. Like most of my body parts, my senses were growing numb fromthe cold.
I reread the message and then looked down and discoveredthe footprints that led to and from Lightning. At least the ones I had notobliterated as I clomped around in the mound of heavy snow. I followed thefootprints to the street, hoping that whoever left the note had had secondthoughts and was waiting for me. As I walked, I noticed that the footprintsheading away from my car were more defined than the ones heading toward it.What that meant I had no idea. As I neared the street, it looked like whoeverleft the note had stumbled a couple of times and fell once as he or she got outof a vehicle and headed down my driveway. I found the street deserted,carefully examined the markings. Experience taught me that you cannot makeplaster casts of footprints in snow or sand, so I ambled to the house to get my camera to take some photos. I would have scurried, but I knew that theprints wouldn’t melt before I returned. Besides, it had been many years sinceI had been able to scurry. A man my age and size can only scurry downhill, anda robust man proceeding downhill will not stop scurrying until the downhillelement ceases to exist. I learned that lesson on a previous case. It’s calledexperience, which is what happens to you that you wish had happened to someoneelse.
I reasoned that pictures of the footprints might be ofsome help. The markings on the snow were distinct, and the wear of the bootcould provide a match, if I just knew where to look for the boot. Should Ihightail it to Precipice Point and check everyone’s boots?
I had just finished taking some pictures when I hearda screech similar to the sound a vulture makes before descending upon its prey.Okay, I don’t know if most vultures screech or not, but one does. She livesnext door to me.
“Yoo-hoo, oh Cyrus, dear. Would you like to make asnowman with me?”
My next-door neighbor, Heloise Humphert, was makingnew tracks down my driveway. In her arms she held her fur ball Twinkle Toes, awhite, toy poodle she might have lost if she had put her down in the snow.
“I’m game,” I replied. “Let’s put Muffy down and packsnow around her.”
“Oh, Cyrus, you know her name is Twinkle Toes, andlittle Twinkle Toes doesn’t like to set her toesies down in the snow.”
If I had already eaten breakfast, her response mighthave been enough to make me lose it. She caught me off guard and arrived at myside before I could hide my visitor’s note.
“Oh, has Cyrus written little ol’ me a love letter?”
“There are many things I would love to write to you ina letter, Miss Humphert, but I doubt if you would do any of them.”
“Oh, Cyrus, you’d be surprised what I would be willingto do with you.”
Before I could stop her, my neighbor grabbed the notefrom my hand and read it.
“Oh, my. It looks like my Cyrus will be going back towork. You be careful now, Honey Bun.”
I was about to tell Miss Busybody that I worked everyday, then I remembered that Lou and I no longer worked when there were nomurders to solve.
“Did you see anyone in my driveway earlier today, MissHumphert?”
“As a matter of fact, I did, Cyrus. It was about 4:37this morning. Twinkle Toes barked, and I got up to see what she was barkingabout. I looked out and saw a hunchbacked old man sneaking away from yourhouse. I started to come over and alert you, but it was so late, and I wasn’tsure whether to wake you, or not.”
“I’m sure glad you didn’t, Miss Humphert. My oldticker isn’t what it used to be. I’m not sure if it would’ve held up seeing youat my door in the middle of the night. By the way, I don’t guess you couldrecognize the old man if you saw him again.”
“No, Cyrus. I’m sorry, but I can’t. I just know he wasold, hunchbacked, and not too tall, and he was bundled up to where I couldn’tsee his face.”
“That’s okay. I just thought you might have followedhim and invited him over for meatloaf. Well, I’d love to stay and chat, MissHumphert, but, as you can see, I have work to do. Maybe we can make a snowmansome other time.”
I had no intention of making anything with that woman,but if I saw her below me in a snowstorm, only my Christian upbringing wouldkeep me from stomping my foot and starting an avalanche.
As I continued my evil thoughts about my neighbor, sheturned and walked away, taking her white rat with her.
After she left my field of vision, my thoughts turnedback to the case at hand, and I wondered how I would maneuver Lightning throughsuch heavy snow. I had no intention of shoveling my driveway. I could think ofother ways of bringing on a coronary. Work was not something I was accustomedto doing, especially hard work.
I was sure that whoever left the note wouldn’t wait untilthe snow melted before he or she committed murder, so I needed someone to plowmy driveway. No sooner had the thought entered my mind than Mark, the boy who mowsmy yard, rakes my leaves, and shovels my snow, hollered at me from the top ofthe driveway.
“I assume you want me to shovel your walk, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, but could you do my driveway first? I need toget to work.”
“Sure thing, Lieutenant,” and he wasted no time diggingthe shovel into the snow.
I knew it would take him a while to complete his task.While I waited for him to clear a path for Lightning, I went in the house tocall and make reservations for Lou and me at the Overlook Inn. Within minutes, Ihad reserved two rooms for us and called the good sergeant to let him know. Ahalf an hour later, Mark rang the doorbell to let me know that the driveway wasfinished. I slipped him two twenties and left to pick up Lou and start the daywith a good breakfast at the Blue Moon Diner. After all, we wouldn’t be able tocheck in at the Overlook Inn until sometime in the early afternoon, and a bodyneeds to eat.
Lou and I eat most of our meals out, and our favoriteplace to dine is the Blue Moon Diner. We are there so often that two stools atthe counter still have our impressions in place when we return for the nextmeal. Rosie, our waitress for breakfast and lunch, and Thelma, who brings usour supper, are always delighted to see our smiling faces, and that isn’t onlybecause we are good tippers. Both Rosie and Thelma are widows. Rosie, alifelong resident of Hilldale, and Tom never had children, while Thelmarecently moved to Hilldale to be close to her grandson who attends college inthe area. Both women love knowing that what they do each day is making someoneelse’s day better, and I don’t know what Lou and I would do without them.
On a typical day Lou and I arrive at the Blue Moon afterall the regulars have left, so we mosey up to the counter, plop down on acouple of stools, and because we leave one stool between us, we have room tosprawl out, put our elbows on the counter, and eat to our heart’s content.Never quite sure how much food it takes to make our hearts content, we do ourbest not to come up a little short. Unless we are in the mood for somethingdifferent, we order the usual; sausage, bacon, eggs, hash browns, biscuits,gravy, and pancakes loaded down with maple syrup. Sometimes we tell Rosie tothrow a couple of handfuls of pecans on the pancakes. After all of that, we canmake do until our stomachs tell us it’s time for a snack. A little before noon,Lou and I left the Blue Moon Diner with our stomachs full and smiles on ourfaces. Actually, our stomachs looked full before we arrived, but when we leftthey also felt it. I would be good for another hour or so. I checked to see ifI had any remembrances of our scrumptious meal, but found none. Gravy stainsdisturb me. A little gravy on the shirt means less gravy on the inside.
Lou and I lowered ourselves into the front seats of mycar and put our game faces on. As we settled into our seats, I thought I heardLightning gasp for breath. Maybe I was mistaken. At any rate, it was time togo to work. In Hilldale, the city and county are one, as far as government jobsare concerned. Lou and I handle any homicide in the county, and the Streets andRoads Division take care of anything to do with our streets, from fixingpotholes to shoveling snow. As we left the metropolis of Hilldale behind, I wasglad I wasn’t the only one to get the memo about a murder at Overlook Inn.Streets and Roads must have gotten one too, unless the policy of plowing theroad to Precipice Point changed when the inn reopened. If I rememberedcorrectly, it was eight miles from the edge of the city limits to PrecipicePoint. Eight miles that seemed like twenty.
I left behind the last house within the city limits,pleased that the snow plow didn’t stop there, but continued to make our drive alittle more palatable. I say a little because the road to Precipice Point isnot a wide road. Nor a level one. Nor a straight one. Only the lack of trafficmakes the road somewhat safe, but that might change by spring now that the innhas reopened. If I was to believe the note I received on my car, the drive outwould be safer for someone than what that person, or was it those people, wouldencounter once he, she, or they arrived.
Murder muddled my thoughts as I drove toward the inn.In a way, it would be hard to murder someone there. In a way, it would be easy.The inn sets on a couple of acres of land, and there is not much land to lookat, because the inn takes up quite a bit of space. I’m not good atmeasurements, but I would guess that there is approximately five hundred feet ofland in the front, a couple hundred feet in the back, and one hundred or sofeet on each side, once you account for the garages. They call it PrecipicePoint for a reason. I’m not sure if Precipice Point is redundant, but it is aprecipice. Or is it really a pinnacle? Who knows? Who cares? When you get tothe end of the land, you can either fly or drop to get to the next piece ofland. If you have wings, you might be able to fly across the expanse to theadjacent piece of land a few hundred feet across the divide. If you cannotfly, the drop will not kill you, but landing is not recommended.
While there’s only one way in or out from PrecipicePoint, there are a lot of places to play hide-and-seek inside the inn. Beforethat weekend was over, Lou and I would find many of them.
On the drive out to the inn, I noticed trees on bothsides of the road. Lou called some evergreens, others deciduous. I called themgreen ones and brown ones. I have no idea what deciduous is, but it’s not adisease I would want to catch. While I know some big words, others escape me.Each morning I open the dictionary and poke my fat finger at some word. If it’sa word I already know, I keep poking until I learn a new word. It usuallydoesn’t take me long before I land on an unknown word. At least, one that’sunknown to me. When I returned home from our trip to the inn, I planned to lookup the meaning of deciduous. On the surface, it sounds like erosion of thegums. When I shared that with Lou, he thought a moment, smiled, and told methat some gums are deciduous.
The trees continued to follow us on our journey. Attimes, there was a break between trees, but mainly they towered over the roadand stood between ten and twenty feet back from where Lightning meandered downthe well-worn blacktop path.
Being somewhat familiar with the road helped me todrive and think at the same time, and when the road started its dramaticdescent I knew we were getting close to our destination. The road leads down tothe bridge then up again to the inn.
Soon, I stopped the car and looked at the bridge thatloomed ahead. The bridge. The only way between where I was and Overlook Inn. Along time ago someone built a bridge over an expanse, allowing people to arriveat Precipice Point without leaping. The snowplow that had made our journeyeasier stopped just before the bridge and turned around to go back to town? Thebridge was made of wood and iron and so old there was no weight limit listed. Ihoped the extra helpings we had at breakfast would have no bearing as towhether on not I could work this case until its conclusion and once again enjoysemi-retirement.
I gripped the steering wheel with both hands, lookedover at a sweating sergeant, and hit the gas. Lightning plowed through thesnow. I hoped I didn’t have to brake before arriving at my destination. Ididn’t. The snow stopped us after only a few feet. Two policemen sat in a caron a bridge, hoping that the bridge that had lasted for many years lasted alittle longer. We sat there wondering if there was enough room to open thedoors and walk to the inn. There was. I looked at the heavy snow in front ofus. Not a track anywhere. Not even a bird or squirrel had disturbed its beauty.The thought of the uphill flight to the inn suddenly made the bridge seemsafer. Besides, not only would we have to extract ourselves, but our luggage,too. If only we could have slid down a hill on our suitcases. As wecontemplated our demise, I looked up as the door of the inn opened. A manstepped out onto the porch and waved to us. Was this our murderer welcoming us?After a quick wave, he walked down the steps and jumped up onto a snowplow thatI hadn’t noticed, a snowplow somewhat smaller than the one the city owns. Hemade a roundabout path in our direction, jumped off, and trekked over to us. Irolled down the window, told him we were guests. He asked if we feltcomfortable remaining where we were until he finished plowing the driveway. Ilied, then rolled up the window, and the two of us remained in my little yellowbug until just after the sun had gone down.
Maybe it wasn’t that long, but it was long enough thatmy stomach let me know it had been an hour since we’d eaten. Although I wasnever a Boy Scout, I never went anywhere unprepared. I reached into my pocketand extracted a Hershey Almond candy bar, slightly colder than it was when Iremoved it from the refrigerator. I always forget that there’s no reason torefrigerate candy bars in the winter, but summer habits are hard tobreak. I meticulously removed the candy from its wrapper, smiled that Ididn’t have to remove my pocketknife to perform surgery to separate two almondsthat had bonded, and carefully ate the chocolate that surrounded my firstalmond of the day. I have to be greatly excited or enormously disturbed to eatmore than one almond at a time. Of course, time passes quickly, so I predictedthat a second almond would be crunched to death before we were rescued from ourtemporary home. I shuddered as I remembered where we were and tried not tothink of anything or anyone being crunched to death.
While a Hershey Almond candy bar is my staple, Lou isan M&M’s kind of guy, so he followed suit, and mangled the brown packagewith his teeth. He gulped several colorful bits of candy at one time, andsmiled as if being suspended on a bridge was not completely bad.
I’ve been a lover of Hershey Almond candy bars for aslong as I can remember. I tear up as I think back to those easier-to-openpackages with the white lining inside when all I had to do was slide the whitecovering from its brown encasement, open it and ogle the chocolate and nuts. Onmany a day, I carefully picked a sliver of chocolate from that white backgroundor licked the paper when it was necessary. I reminisced about my favorite foodgroup until Sir Plowalot gave me the high sign that it was okay to proceed, twocandy bars and seven almonds surrounded by chocolate later. Luckily, I broughtextra candy bars. I didn’t want to run out and have to depend on the St.Bernard to bound through the heavy snow to bring me more munchies.
I gave the snowplow time to clear out of my way. Thisallowed me to scan the inn in front of me. Not exactly what I’d call an inn.More like a fortress. The stone block structure hovered over the snow below. I suspectedit has an ominous feel at night, when the vultures return to rest on theparapet. I didn’t want to be outside at night to find out. I hoped when wechecked in there would be a note from the murderer telling us that he or shehad postponed all murders until spring.
I put Lightning in reverse in order to get a runningstart up the hill to the inn. I would’ve done so earlier, but Lightning wassnowbound until the man on the plow loosened the snow that held us in place. Istopped, shifted into drive, crossed the bridge, and bore right at the circulardriveway. I didn’t stop until I arrived at the stone steps leading up to thefront door. We opened Lightning’s doors and stepped out. There was no railing,but there were only five steps. Five wide steps. I thought we could make itthat far, even carrying luggage.
Lou and I gathered our belongings and navigated thesteps without incident. I opened the large oaken door and the sergeant and Ientered. The lobby stood on the right. A counter for checking in faced it. Thearea behind it was enclosed, except for a doorway behind the counter. The areato my left was open. At the front was a large sitting area, with couches andupholstered chairs scattered about. Fifty feet or so beyond, with no wallbeforehand, stood the dining room, an elegant room that did not fit in with therustic nature of the inn’s walls. As I studied our surroundings, adistinguished gentleman, whose gray hair had long since parted from the top ofhis head, greeted us. Evidently he had come from the check-in area. I didn’tsee him approach, but then I’d stepped over to look down the hallway past thedining room.
“Welcome, gentlemen! I am Sidney Longworth, the proprietor.You are the first of today’s guests to arrive.”
“So, we’re the only guests?”
“No, some of our guests arrived yesterday.”
We identified ourselves minus our titles. I noticed noglint of recognition from Mr. Longworth. Either he was a good actor, or hewasn’t the one who delivered the note. Of course he had no hump, but, then,I’ve seenYoung Frankensteinenough to know that humps can be moved. Orremoved.
“If you can wait a few minutes until Manfred puts thesnowplow up, he can help you to your room. You may check in in the meantime, ifyou like?”
Not wanting to carry our own luggage, we waited forManfred. In the meantime, I went back outside to park Lightning in the garage,even though Mr. Longworth told me Manfred could do that for me, too. Idescended the shoveled steps, surprised that I remained on my feet, and chose aparking place in one of the two adjacent garages. I locked the car and lookedaround to familiarize myself with the outside layout. We had not been toldwhether or not the murder would take place inside or outside, or at what timeof day or night. With my luck, it would be outside in a biting, howling wind atmidnight. If so, I would signal the good sergeant any ideas I had while I satby the window in the sitting room. I’d noticed a brown leather sofa just underthat window on which I could recline with a pillow under my head while Iinstructed my partner. After all, rank has its privileges.
I noticed the scarcity of cars in either garage. Thereappeared to be room for around twenty to thirty cars. I had lots of choices asto the spot I selected. Evidently, there were few other guests at the inn.Unless business picked up, it would be easy to pick out the murderer. He or shewould be the one left standing.
Because I reserved rooms under the names Cy Dekker andLou Murdock I doubted if anyone other than the murderer had any idea there weretitles attached to our names. Without our police privileges, it might be harderto learn what we could prior to the murder, but if we could learn enough, maybewe might be able to prevent the victim’s demise, even though Mr., Mrs., or MissCut-and-Paste was not enamored with our successes.
I rejoined Lou and Longworth, and together Lou and Iasked Longworth about the inn and our fellow travelers. He was guarded whendiscussing the other guests. He would tell us nothing except their names, andhow many guests there were, but he was glib when it came to embellishing aboutthe virtues of the inn. I only wished that he had cut down on the adjectivesand supplied more nouns. I could judge for myself how many stars to bestow uponthe vacation spot after I had experienced more of it. I merely wanted to knowabout its amenities, and its nooks and crannies. Eventually, he told us thatall the rooms, except for the staff’s lodgings, were on the second floor, butthat none of the rooms on the rear wing were being used, due to the fact thatthe inn recently reopened and the number of guests were few. The dining room,sitting room, indoor pool, exercise room, library, and auditorium occupied muchof the first floor. When Longworth mentioned the auditorium, it brought backmemories of the way the inn used to be. In its glory days, it was known for itsdistinguished actors and wonderful plays. I never was much into plays, so I hadto take the word of others as to how good they were. In my book, plays are justabove operas and the ballet on the food chain. I just don’t have the stomachfor those kinds of things.
Longworth told us that the inn had thirty-two largerooms, with his emphasis on large. Rooms had either king- or queen-size beds,end tables on each side of the bed, a desk and chair, a table, a couch, arefrigerator, and two or three upholstered chairs, one of which reclined. Eachroom had a fireplace, and a container of wood sat ready for each occupant. Theentire grouping of rooms was in an E shape, looking from the front, only therewere no rooms above the front desk where guests checked in and out. Thus, onlypart of the bottom of the E contained rooms.
Longwood piqued my interest when his diatribe turnedto food. Three meals were included each day in the cost of the room. Theyserved breakfast at 7:00 (which meant I would have to rise earlier than usual),a mid-morning snack at 10:00, and lunch at 12:30. Also, snacks would beprovided each afternoon at three, and hors d’oeuvres served prior to theevening meal, which was at 7:00, and bedtime snacks would be set out at 10:00for anyone who was interested. Lou and I would be interested.
Longworth finished his monologue as Manfred returnedto carry our luggage. None of the other guests were anywhere to be found, so wechecked in, picked up the keys to our rooms, and mounted the steps behindManfred. Having seen no other guests, we agreed to rest for thirty minutesbefore tackling the layout. Could it be that Longworth had already disposed ofthe other guests, but the snowstorm prevented him from pushing their cars overthe cliff? Somehow I figured our job would be tougher than that.
My room was the first room on the left after mountingthe steps and turning right. Across from my room, I could lean over the railingand practice Romeo and Juliet in my falsetto voice. Only two things preventedme from doing so. I don’t know Shakespeare, and under no circumstances do I usea falsetto voice. If I did choose to look over the railing, I could look downupon the registration desk, out upon the lobby, or up to the ceiling muchhigher than where I stood. I chose to do none of those things.
Manfred opened the door to my room, and I discoveredthat Longworth did not embellish too much. Considering it was one room and nota suite, it was quite large. There was a desk, two upholstered chairs, one ofwhich might’ve been a recliner, a king-size bed, a couch, a small refrigerator,and a microwave. Those last two would come in handy if I decided to sneak anyfood back to my room. Manfred carried my bag inside, pointed out each of theroom’s amenities, and asked if I needed further assistance. I declined, and heleft to show Lou to his room.
A knock at the door shook me from my nap. Evidently Ihad slumbered too long to satisfy a sergeant who wanted to wrap up the case assoon as possible. Not taking time to tuck in my shirt or comb my hair, Istumbled to the door and opened it. I should have grabbed my gun on the way.
“Hello, Cyrus. I like what you’ve done with your hair.I had planned to run my fingers through it, anyway.”
I wondered how my next-door neighbor knew where thegood sergeant and I had bedded down for the weekend, and then I remembered shehad snatched the murderer’s note from my hands. But how had she found out whichroom was mine? Could it be that the proprietor had told her more than he waswilling to tell me? Whatever the case, there was no way this vixen would runher claws through my hair.
“Well, Miss Humphert, what brings you here, and howdid you know what room I was in?”
“When I returned from walking Twinkle Toes thismorning I realized the subtle hint you offered when you passed the note to me.I knew it was your way of calling me to this weekend love nest.”
“The love nest is out among the trees. Why don’t yougo outside, leap from the cliff, grab on to a tree limb, and wait for me? Oh,and by the way, you didn’t tell me how you knew which room was mine.”
“That cute sergeant downstairs let me know.”
I no longer felt guilty about waiting inside while Lousolved an outdoor murder.
“Well, why don’t you go downstairs and bother the sergeant,while I finish getting dressed. He loves getting his hair messed up. By theway, where’s Muffy? You didn’t leave her at home by herself, did you?”
“Oh, I couldn’t do that, Cyrus. Twinkle Toes loves herCyrus, too. She can’t wait to nibble at your toes.”
I closed the door as my next-door neighbor turnedaway. I wondered how far a man of my size with steel-toed shoes could kick arat. I began to smile at the possibilities. I continued to smile when Irealized that if the murder had not yet taken place, my neighbor was stilleligible to be the victim. I stopped smiling when I felt God reprimand me formy thoughts.
I went to the phone and called the front desk. I askedwhoever answered to page the sergeant, who should be nearby getting his hairmessed up. A couple of minutes later, someone knocked on the door. I opened ita crack, but enough of a crack that I could see a smiling face. I decided toget even with that smiling face later, and invited him inside. Change of plans.We would plan our strategy from within the confines of my room.
Lou informed me that he had seen no guests except formy next-door neighbor. After getting up from his nap, which was much shorterthan mine, he had ventured down a few hallways, but saw no one. When hementioned this to me, I wondered if we were lured to the inn by Longworth, whoused the ploy he did to bring customers to his establishment. Or could it bethat he planned to murder the two of us, unbeknownst to him that wither I goestmy neighbor is sure to follow? I quickly dismissed that theory. Surely our workwould be more difficult than that. And so it was.
I wanted to check out the inn. Actually, I wanted tocheck out of the inn, but that was not possible with a murderer lurking nearby.On one occasion, I slid the latch from my door and peeked out to see ifyou-know-who was around. I suffered a kiss on the cheek while claws messed upmy hair. I hit my eye on the door as I tried to get away from her clutches. Ifsomeone were to look out again, it would be the good sergeant. I looked aroundthe room for other means of escape. There were none. We would remain in my roomuntil I heard screams, or until the smell of food cooking wafted in under thedoor.
After too much time in isolation, we weren’t able tosolve a yet uncommitted murder, so my thoughts shifted to planning my exit. I’dread about Noah. I knew about the raven and the dove. After a reasonable amountof time elapsed, I would send the good sergeant out. If he didn’t return withina few seconds, I would know that either the neighbor had captured him or he hadsmelled food.
I expected things to get worse when we left the room,but not in the way they did. We strolled down the steps, slinked over to thehors d’oeuvres, and crinkled our noses.What is this stuff?I whisperedto Lou to see if he had a clue. He had no idea, either. The other guests hadcome out of hiding. At least two men had. I whispered again to Lou and westepped back and waited for someone else to go first. One did, and he seemed toenjoy it. Then an elderly woman hobbled over, ate some of the pasty stuff, andlicked her lips. I motioned to the sergeant to go first. He whispered, “Lieutenantsfirst.” I whispered back, “Not after you sent thatwomanto my room.” Hesmiled and sidled up to the table to choose his poison. He took a knife andspread a small portion of the pasty stuff on a cracker, took a bite, andsmiled. Knowing Lou could be a good actor at times, I followed, begrudgingly.Lou looked at me and did his best not to laugh. I was about to whisper and askhim, “What is this stuff?” when Mrs. Longworth walked up and asked us how weliked the pâté de foie gras. I tried to smile, and took another bite. It tastedlike dog food that had been run through a blender. On second thought, it tastedlike liver, and I can’t stand liver. I hoped the hors d’oeuvres were not aprecursor of what dinner would be like. I turned away from the paste and walkedover to the sitting room. On the way I passed Mrs. Longworth and said somethingabout not wanting to spoil my appetite for dinner. When she was out of sight, Isneaked my Hershey Almond bar from my pocket and bit off two almonds and allthe chocolate that surrounded them. I wouldn’t go near that foie gras again,unless it would be to recommend it to my neighbor, who was descending thestairs as I looked up. She was dressed for dinner. Too bad she had not chosen ahat with a veil to accompany her outfit.
At dinner, Lou and I got to meet everyone. Well, wegot their names and faces, but didn’t waste much time talking. Instead, Ilistened, plus checked out the eyes to see if anyone recognized us. No oneseemed to. Maybe they were all good actors. And there wasn’t a hunchback amongthem. After dinner, I would ask the good sergeant to corner my next-doorneighbor and see if she recognized any of our dinner companions as thehunchback who’d left me the note. I doubted if she could. Whoever it was hadbundled up, and all of the guests seemed about the same height and weight. Eventhe woman was near the same size as the men, but then my neighbor would neverrecognize another woman.
I was right about one thing. There weren’t a lot ofguests, and from what I could discern, not only were the good sergeant and Ithe first to arrive on Friday, but, other than my neighbor, we were the onlyones to arrive on Friday. Three other guests were expected, but never arrived.According to Longworth, one phoned to say he would be late, another to say thatthe storm delayed him until the next morning. The third had not called. Maybeone of them was our murderer, hiding inside a nearby turret until the time camefor him to accomplish his dastardly deed.
The dining room consisted of six, large, mahogany tables,each covered with white tablecloths, and each capable of seating sixteenpeople. Because of our small number, everyone was seated at the same table. Toobad my next-door neighbor hadn’t ordered room service. I smiled at the othersseated around the table. Well, everyone except my neighbor. I’d heard about thefood at this place, but didn’t see how it could compare with the Blue Moon. Atleast the Blue Moon doesn’t serve that pâté de foie gras stuff. Good thing, too.If they did, Lou and I would be looking for a new place to chow down. Give memeat loaf, country fried steak, and all the trimmings.
I’d learned that whenever possible, the Longworths atewith their guests. That night it was possible. I scanned the table, trying toget a lead on what might happen. Mr. Longworth sat at the head of the table,his wife at the foot. Because of the three more-than-fashionably-late guests,there were only six other guests at the inn that night. On Longworth’s rightsat a man who introduced himself as Myles Mycroft. He looked nearly forty andwore his hair slicked straight back. Mycroft looked like someone who had readall the books on etiquette. I’d watch him if I lost my place and didn’t knowthe proper way to attack a certain dish. I might have to lean forward to do so,because Lou sat next to him. The good sergeant’s body protruded farther forwardthan did Mycroft’s. Maybe Mycroft spent more time reading about eating than hedid eating. I sat next to my partner, in the last seat on Longworth’s right,which means I sat next to Mrs. Longworth. Since the table accommodated sixteenand there were only eight of us, we had room to spread out, although I deducedthat spreading out was not the custom at a place like Overlook Inn. There wereno “No Grazing” signs, but I could sense that no one other than a policemanwould be caught putting his or her elbows on the table. If I could’veidentified my adversary, I would’ve suggested a change of venue for the murder,with the Blue Moon Diner as my first choice.
Arthur Plankton sat opposite Mycroft. Plankton was aweasel of a man who looked best suited for absconding with the bank’s funds. He looked like his best days were behind him, and I guessed his age to besomewhere around sixty-five.
While Plankton looked old, the woman seated to hisleft looked even older. She had so many age spots and wrinkles it would havebeen hard to add them and divide by two to get her age. Miss Isabel Dukenfieldwore a hat with a veil. I remembered that my grandmother had one that lookedquite similar. Miss Dukenfield’s hat must have survived the war. I think shemight have looked better if she’d traded the hat for a bag. The veil didn’tcover nearly enough. Besides, she pulled it up when the food came.
I looked up at the chandelier that loomed almost directlyabove my head. I hated to eat under so much glass. I was afraid it would fallon me, but it was so large that it hovered over two or three tables, andanother chandelier picked up where that one left off. My fear of the chandelierwas interrupted when someone opened the front door. In walked a young man, wholooked at us and apologized for being late. The openness of the inn, with nowalls separating the sitting room from the dining room, made it possible to seeanyone who came or went, even though we were quite a distance from the frontdoor. I soon found out that the man’s name was Tony McArthur, and it seemedthat everyone at the table, with the exception of my partner and the hussy wholives next door to me, seemed to recognize the man. I whispered to Lou to seeif maybe he recognized the newcomer, but he didn’t. I thought maybe he was somekind of star and our work and lack of hero worship prevented us fromrecognizing him. The tall young man grabbed a chair and scooted it between Louand Mycroft, thus making it even harder for me to follow Mycroft’s lead.
I was starved. I couldn’t wait for the food to beserved. Possibly sensing this, Mrs. Longworth rang the bell. I speculated thatsomeone would soon arrive with food, or we would come face to face withPavlov’s dog. It was time to eat. What conversation there was died down whenour guest list increased by one.
The meal started with shrimp, but it wasn't fried. Evidentlysomeone here wasn't from the south. And the ketchup in a bowl beside the shrimptasted funny. And the soup he brought next was cold. Good help must be hard toget so far out in the country. I didn't see any improvement in subsequentdishes, but Mrs. Longworth smiled through the whole process. I think she wasembarrassed. Things didn't get any better until the dessert arrived, but that'salso when things got worse.
Before I could sample Baked Alaska, Mycroft made a fewgyrations and fell face first into his. From what I could tell, his hairlinelanded about Barrow while his chin touched down in Anchorage. From the way itlooked, it didn’t matter that the flames had burned out before he dived in. Evidently,the sushi had given him food poisoning. If Mr. Mycroft had family, Michael thechef would soon be sued.
Quickly, I came to my senses and realized our murdererhad struck. I jumped to my feet, pulled out my badge, and hollered, “I’m Lt.Dekker, Hilldale Police Department! Don’t anyone move! This man has had a heartattack.”
From the looks on their faces the whole lot of themlooked guilty. Either that or they were sick from the food and my yelling didn’thelp matters. I motioned for Lou to check out the kitchen and keep everyonethere in place. I walked past Lou’s chair and felt for a pulse. Miles Mycroftwas definitely doornail dead, whatever that is.
I asked the guests to go to their rooms and told themI’d let them know when it was okay to return to the table. Then, I asked Mrs.Longworth to return to her quarters, while I kept her husband at hand. Shedidn’t seem pleased, but she complied. I asked Longworth how many exits the innhad and was surprised when he told me only three. I expected an inn that sizeto have more, but it was originally built as a home and for some reason thecurrent building codes didn’t apply to existing structures. I had Longworthshow me how to dial an outside line, then motioned for him to join his wife. Ashe walked away, I told him I would let him know when he could return.
Neither of the chefs wanted to leave the kitchen, butour server didn’t mind. After firing off a couple of verbal rounds, Lou and Iwere able to convince the twosome to do so. As far as I was concerned, everyplace in and about the inn was a crime scene. After making sure everything wassecure, I hurried back to the phone and dialed Lt. Michaelson’s number. I knewhe wasn’t on duty at that time of night, but I knew he would come.
“Why hello, Cy. How’s retirement treating you?”
“Okay up until today. I’m unretired now. Lou and I areat the Overlook Inn. There’s been a murder. Can you round up as many men aspossible and come out here and help us? This place is so large it might take usa while to find our murderer.”
“I was just sitting here with my wife in front of acozy fireplace, but I’m sure I’d rather tackle the blinding snowstorm and joinyou and Lou.”
“If it’ll make you feel better, George, the snowstopped falling last night. Oh, and by the way, on your way out could you stopby the Blue Moon Diner and fetch Lou and me some food.”
“That place where you are doesn’t have food?”
“It does, but the stove’s broken. It won’t take youlong. Just tell Thelma who you are and who the food is for. And feel free toget something for yourself. I’ll pay for it.”
“Oh, you’ll pay for it all right, but not my dinner.My wife and I have already eaten, and unlike some people, I only eat one dinnera night.”
I thanked him for his kindhearted gesture, then hungup and dialed Frank Harris’s number. Frank is the medical examiner.
“Your voice sounds familiar. Don’t tell me. Let meguess.”
“You and George should take your act on the road.You’d be a big hit in Poughkeepsie.”
“Oh, I think I recognize the voice now. Aren’t you theguy who used to work here part time? Don’t tell me you’re out in this mess.”
“No, Frank. I’m the guy who’s now working full time,and Lou and I are indoors at the moment, but we’d like for you to join us.”
“What’s the matter? Someone fall on an icicle and youwant to know if it was murder?”
“Pretty close, Frank. Actually, he fell on his icecream.”
“Frank, Lou and I are out at Precipice Point at theOverlook Inn. Someone just keeled over and we think he had help.”
“Were you there when he keeled over?”
“And you couldn’t tell if someone pushed him, or not?”
“Just come on out. I’ll give you the particulars whenyou get here.”
“You mean I don’t have to bring you anything?”
“No. Thanks, Frank. George is picking up dinner forus.”
“What? Oh, never mind. I’ll see you as soon as I canget the wagon going and get out there.”
All Lou and I could do was wait. We didn’t want todisturb anything. An SOC team and the medical examiner would soon be able totell us how to proceed. Lou and I wandered back to the dining room table. Mr.Mycroft wasn’t Lazarus. His face remained in his dessert, although the desserthad begun to run. I stepped to my place, and stuck a spoon in my baked Alaska.It turned out to be the best thing the chef had served. As long as I didn’tlook at the deceased, I had no problem eating it.
I finished and glanced at Lou. He looked a littlesick.
“Not you, too?”
“Not that I know of, Cy, but we did eat the same stuffhe ate.”
“So did the others, but I see only one face full of dessert,or is that one dessert full of a face?”
“Maybe it wasn’t the dessert. None of the other dessertshave been touched.”
One had. I wondered if I looked as bad as I felt. Witheach breath I felt somewhat better, and when I hadn’t keeled over by the timethe first of the bluecoats showed up, I felt even better. My dispositionimproved tremendously when George Michaelson showed up with our real dinner.Lou looked for an out-of-the-way place to chow down, a place without activityand fingerprints, and we let the other boys go to work. I noticed one of theofficers was Officer Dan Davis, a young officer I had worked with on a previouscase. I told him the inn had three exits, and instructed him to find them andtwo other officers to help him guard the exits to see that no one left thepremises. Their first job was to open each outside door and check forfootprints. There were none. No one had left the establishment.
After Lou and I finished our dinner, courtesy of Thelmaat the Blue Moon Diner and my good friend George, we sat down on the sofa whileFrank examined Miles Mycroft’s body. A few minutes later, Frank walked over andtapped me on the shoulder.
“Cy, my guess is the guy was poisoned, but I won’tknow for sure until I do an autopsy. I think I’ll have another surprise foryou, but I’ll wait until I get him back and have an opportunity to look himover. Mind if I take him now?”
“The sooner the better. How long before you’ll know anything?”
“Depends on what killed him. Hopefully sometime tomorrowor Sunday.”
I nodded and Frank walked away. My guess had beenthat the victim was poisoned, and, if so, there would be a lot of work to do. Ateam was already at work in the kitchen. With the body removed, some men wouldcheck the food and utensils on the table. Maybe we’d luck out. Maybe Mycroftdid have a heart attack, and I summoned the troops for no reason. Somehow, Ididn’t think so. Time, and Frank Harris, would tell. A few minutes later, Frankand his silent new friend left the inn for the morgue.
Items were labeled and removed from the table. Allfood, utensils, and everything in the kitchen would be checked for traces ofpoison. Another team would dust for prints, but because so many people weregathered in such a small area, the only place we held any hope of finding asecond set of prints that might help us was Mycroft’s room. Everyone was hardat work except for Lou and me. I eased behind the counter and followed the pathuntil I came to a door. I knocked and Longworth answered my knock. I informedhim that I wanted to interrogate those who were present and asked for a roomwhere I could do that quietly. Longworth questioned why I would need to botherhis guests just because some man died of a heart attack. I convinced him thatit was important. I offered to let him go first, so that he could see howpainless it was. He picked up a key. We stopped off to secure Lou, andLongworth led the sergeant and me to a conference room located down the hallway.I remembered that he had neglected to mention a conference room when describingthe inn’s virtues. Maybe I didn’t look like a conference room kind of guy. Iwasn’t, but I was about to turn into one.
As I walked down the hall behind the proprietor, I noticedhis profile as he stared at my compatriots. I could tell that he didn’t think apassel of policemen were good for business. Murder wasn’t good for mine, so I’dcut him no slack.
He reached a door, unlocked it, and we stepped inside.Couches lined the room. A metal serving cart stood in one corner. In the middleof the room stood a conference table surrounded by chairs, with enough roombehind them to allow legroom for those seated on the couches, and a pathway forpeople to navigate from one end of the room to the other. Not wanting Longworthto be too comfortable, I motioned for him to take a seat at the table, andselected a chair next to him. I could tell he wanted to talk, but didn’t wantto say anything that I would find helpful.
On most of our cases, I ask the questions while Lou listens.Later, the two of us evaluate the information we’ve gathered. It was time togather that information.
“Mr. Longworth, tell me a little of the history ofthis magnificent structure.”
“As you wish. In 1840, a Mr. Jacob Sudduth came tothis area to visit a cousin. One day, when his cousin was otherwise occupiedand he was feeling quite bored, he lit out on a carriage ride. He noticed whatamounted to a road that headed away from town through the trees. Curious, hefollowed it. Surprisingly, the road kept going. There was no room to turn thecarriage around, so Sudduth continued on the road. Some time later he began hisdescent to an old, wooden bridge. Across the bridge Sudduth noticed a logcabin. After testing the bridge and realizing that he still didn’t have enoughroom to turn around, Sudduth guided his horse across the bridge and dismountedto see the log cabin. He could tell the cabin had been deserted for quite sometime. Sudduth was fascinated by the beauty of the place, and despite the factthat he had been gone for hours and his cousin might be worried about him, hewalked around the precipice and studied the layout of the land. Sudduth was awealthy man, and upon returning to his cousin’s home he learned that theproperty was for sale. Before he left he bought the property. He returned ashort time later with Mrs. Sudduth and convinced her they should build a homeon the property. As you can see, what was a home to Sudduth would be a castleto many. He began having stone brought in in 1843 and the house was completedand Sudduth moved in in 1848. Sudduth lived in the house only a few yearsbefore he died, and when his son William became of age, he took ownership ofthe property. Upon William’s death, the house passed on to his son Lee. Lee hadno sons, but had three daughters. His daughter Elizabeth married Joseph Oppenheimer, and thus the house became known as the Oppenheimer estate.”
“And how did you come to be a part of this edifice?”
“Each descendant added his own touch to the structure.In the beginning, there was no swimming pool, etc. Only a library. But theexterior walls were conducive to adding to the mansion. Joseph Oppenheimer wasa patron of the arts. He had an auditorium built with an emphasis on theperforming arts. Mr. Oppenheimer wanted nothing to do with the performancesother than to be a member of the audience. He had heard of my reputation andcontacted me about directing plays in his theater. Like his ancestors beforehim, he too was quite wealthy and was willing to pay top dollar to attract thebest performers. He trusted me with total control over a performance, and I auditionedperformers for each play. Oppenheimer never charged a guest or made a dollarfrom any of his plays. His guests stayed and were fed at no charge to them.They paid only for their travel to the inn.”
“And why did the performances cease?”
“Mr. Oppenheimer’s health was declining. So was hiswife’s. None of their children were interested in the inn, and so, with someregret, the Oppenheimers shut down the performances and moved away. That wasseveral years ago. Mr. Oppenheimer lived longer than he expected, but when hedied, I had an opportunity to come back here. I sank a lot of money intoturning this place into an inn and hope someday to offer our guests plays andperformances equal to what we had before.”
“That’s fascinating! I know you’re excited about suchan opportunity to go back and move forward doing what you love.”
“Only the accoutrements needed to turn this mansioninto an inn and the knowledge of operating an inn made me nervous. I learnedfrom Mr. Oppenheimer. I did what he did. I hired the best people to tell mewhat I needed to do and to perform the tasks whose methods escape me.”
“Now, let’s turn to matters at hand. What can you tellme about the deceased?”
Longworth froze at the sudden change in conversation,but quickly regained his composure and answered my question.
“He registered as Miles Mycroft from Missoula, Montana.He’s been here since yesterday morning and hadn’t bothered anyone. He wasexpected to stay until Monday.”
“Had he been a guest here before?”
“Lt. Dekker, the inn has been open only a week. We’vehad no repeat guests.”
“Do you know the nature of his business in our area?”
Longworth fidgeted in his seat, then answered myquestion.
“I assume he came to enjoy the inn. He never left it,so I assume he had no business outside the inn.”
“Did anyone come to the inn to see him?”
“Did any of the other guests seem to know him?”
Longworth squirmed again.
“No one seemed to know Mr. Mycroft.”
“Well, did anyone here recognize the deceased?”
“I told you, Lieutenant, to the best of my knowledgeno one here knew Mr. Mycroft.”
“Did you eat breakfast with your guests?”
“Yes, my wife and I dined with our guests this morning.”
“And how did Mr. Mycroft seem at breakfast?”
“From what I could ascertain, he was a little ill atease, but not frightened.”
“And how did you arrive at this conclusion?”
“Just from things he said. He didn’t seem afraid ofthe other guests. It seemed more that he didn’t want anyone to know he was herethan it was the fear of what the consequences might be if anyone found out.”
I dismissed Longworth and instructed Lou to get Longworth’swife.
“So, Cy, I’m to be Archie Goodwin to your Nero Wolfe.”
Lou referred to the fact that Nero Wolfe seldom lefthis home and Archie Goodwin ran Wolfe’s errands and brought people to see Wolfeif a telephone call alone wouldn’t do the trick.
Lou left and returned with Mrs. Longworth. After a seriesof questions, she was less help than her husband. She claimed she had neverseen the victim prior to his checking in. I wondered if that was the truth, ora rehearsed lie. Maybe I should’ve kept the Longworths apart while Lou and Iwaited on back-up.
I questioned both chefs, the handyman, and the maid,but came up with nothing. Antoine, the chef, admitted knowing Longworth, whichhelped him secure the job, but claimed he didn’t know the deceased. Michael,the sous chef, answered an ad, and knew neither man. Mr. and Mrs. Mitchuson,the handyman and maid, were local, answered a newspaper ad, and won the jobsafter a trial period. As with the two chefs, part of the amenities theMitchusons received were free room and board. The Mitchusons didn’t own a homeand were happy to comply with the Longworth’s desire for the help to live onthe premises.
I sat in the interrogation room, looked over at Lou.
“So, Lou, what do you think?”
“Well, if he was poisoned, it looks like we have ashort list of suspects, and we have all of them gathered under one roof. Lookslike we’re off to a good start.”
“I’m not sure about a good start, but we have them allgathered. What do you think of the ones we’ve questioned so far?”
“I think the Mitchusons are legit. I’m not sure aboutthe others.”
“I agree, but Michael seemed to be telling the truth.The Longworths and Antoine acted like they have something to hide. The questionis what.”
“I wish I knew.”
“So here’s where we are now. Some of the staff needsmore looking into, and we still have three guests to question.”
“Yes, three. There’s no way I plan to question mynext-door neighbor. But I can keep her sequestered in her room until the caseis solved.”
“Wonder how long that’ll take, Cy?”
“I don’t know. Sometimes it takes years to solve a murder.”
The two of us laughed, even though both of us knewthat neither of us would be satisfied if the case dragged on.
“Okay, Louie, it’s time to inconvenience the guests.Round up the usual suspects.”
My partner laughed at my reference to the movieCasablanca,then turned toward the door. Our job wasn’t finished. It had barely begun.
We agreed that the last would be first and Loutraipsed off to locate Tony McArthur. He came in all smiles, and eager to helpin any way he could, no matter why we wanted him.
“Mr. McArthur, I’m Lt. Dekker, and this is Sgt. Murdock.”
“I know, you introduced yourself when you flew fromthat dining room chair, and the sergeant told me his name on the way down. Iassume you have questions for me. By the way, I got here late. How am Isupposed to answer these questions?”
“I mean I didn’t get any lines. Am I supposed to answeryour questions as they apply to Tony McArthur?”
“Isn’t that who you are?”
“Well, then it would be hard to answer them as someoneelse, wouldn’t it? Shall we begin?”
McArthur motioned for me to go ahead.
“Mr. McArthur, tell me a little bit about yourself.”
“Very good. I’d never have known if you hadn’t toldme. Actually, I don’t think of you as tall, just not short. But let’s press on.What brought you to the inn tonight?”
“I have an MG sitting outside. It’s a treasure. Whendaylight comes, I’ll have to show it to you. That is, if you want to see it.”
I smiled at his remark. A little humor helps a murderinvestigation go a long way.
“Let’s try this again, Mr. McArthur. Why did you cometo the inn?”
“Same reason as everyone else. I want to be part ofthe cast when Longworth begins rehearsals for his next play.”
“So, you know Longworth?”
“I’m still acting as Tony McArthur? Right, Lieutenant?”
“Mr. McArthur, you’re tempting my patience.”
“You’re great at acting perplexed.”
Perplexed wasn’t the word for it. I wanted to pick upa gun and shoot him.
“Let’s get back to the questions. Are you an actor,Mr. McArthur?”
“I’d like to think so. What do you think, Lieutenant?”
“Did I mention my gun is loaded and my gun and I havea hair trigger? I’ve been known to shoot and ask questions later.”
“Hey, that’s good, Lieutenant. I think you’ll get thepart.”
“And I’m about to assign you the part of the next victim.So tell me about your acting experience.”
“Well, the only things that interested me growing upwere plays and movies. If my high school had booked a movie tryout instead of aplay, I might be in Hollywood as we speak. But, instead we put on the playArsenicAnd Old Lace.Are you familiar with it, Lieutenant?”
“I saw the movie. I don’t like plays.”
Ordinarily, I’m not as straightforward when talking tosomeone about my likes and dislikes, but this guy needed to take a hit.
“I can tell, Lieutenant,” McArthur answered, laughingas he said that. “But anyway, with no agents knocking on my door to offer methe lead in the next big movie, I tried out for the school play. Guess whichpart I got?”
“Knowing you as I do, I’d say Uncle Teddy.”
“Bravo, Lieutenant. Teachers who’d been at the schoolfor many years and had seen other classes perform the same play told me I wasthe best Teddy they’d ever seen. What do you think of that, Lieutenant?”
“Well, I think you had an unfair advantage.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“You were crazy to start with. You didn’t have toact.”
“You mean you heard about the teachers’ bodies theycouldn’t find later?”
“What about after high school?”
“Well, I dated on weekends, if that’s what you mean.”
“Listen, Numbskull, did you ever graduate, and if so,did you find any other crazy parts?”
“You know it, Lieutenant. I played the psycho inWaitUntil Darkand the husband inDial M For Murder.But just so youknow I have range, I played Professor Harold Hill inThe Music Man.”
“Have you ever acted in one of Longworth’s plays hereat the inn?”
“Well, it wasn’t exactly an inn at the time, but yeah,and although I could never get the leading part, I was usually one of the mainactors.”
“Who usually got the lead?”
“Carter Thornton usually played the hero. Arthur Rothschildoften played the villain, but sometimes played the hero. Most of the time I wasnext in line.”
“Why did you choose to act here instead of somewhereelse where you could’ve played the lead?”
“Sometimes I did, but I felt that to get a feel forthe entire production a person needed to play all types of parts. Sometimes,when I wasn’t in a scene, I’d hang out with whoever was in charge of lighting,or sound, or find out what needed to be done to move from one scene to thenext.”
“Now that I know a little more about you, let’s getback to the present. Did you know anyone else at the table tonight?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Not even Mrs. Longworth?”
“No. Longworth hasn’t been married that long. I losttrack of him for a while. It was during that time he got married.”
“So none of the other guests looked familiar?”
“Well, they did and they didn’t.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“You know how actors are. Once they get in costume andmakeup and get in character, if they are good it’s hard to recognize them.”
“So, you think that everyone at the table tonight isan actor?”
“Well, not the Longworths.”
“Tell me, Mr. McArthur, do any of these names sound familiar;Arthur Plankton, Isabel Dukenfield, Heloise Humphert, or Myles Mycroft?”
“None of them.”
“Mr. McArthur, when you came in tonight, why did yousit where you did?”
“Well, I didn’t want to sit by myself, and pardon mefor saying this, but I didn’t want to sit by those two ugly women on the otherside of the table, so I just decided to squeeze in where I could.”
“Right next to the deceased.”
“Well, I didn’t know he was going to be the deceasedat the time. Remember, I got here late. I didn’t know what Longworth planned.”
I figured time would tell if that first statement wasright. I didn’t understand the second one, so I decided to press on.
“So tell me, why were you so late getting to the inn tonight?”
“I’ve been out of town, trying out for a play. The snowstormdelayed my flight back, and I just got in town an hour or so before I walked inthe door and saw you at the dining room table.”
“Where were you, and when did you leave?”
“I was in Chicago, well, a suburb of Chicago, at a dinnertheater. It’s a well-known dinner theater, so the part paid more than mosttheaters of that type. When you’re an actor, you go for whatever you can get,as long as it pays, and as long as it doesn’t go against your principles,provided you have principles. Some actors don’t. But then, you know about allthat.”
I motioned for him not to editorialize and get back tomy question.
“I left Hilldale Wednesday afternoon, caught an earlyflight out yesterday morning, and auditioned last night. This morning I foundout I got the part, but rehearsals don’t start for a few weeks. I flew backthis afternoon, and, like I said, I got in about an hour before you saw me. Ididn’t even go to my apartment to change, since it was so late. I don’t mindthe road out here in the daytime, but I don’t like to drive it at night. I cameon anyway, because any job working with Sidney Longworth is a good one tohave.”
“That will be all, Mr. McArthur. But please don’tleave the inn.”
“I wouldn’t think of it. How do you think we did?”
“Well, I think you did great. Sounded like a real cop.And that guy who fell over in his food was so good, if I hadn’t known everyonehere was an actor, I would’ve thought he was really dead.”
“Mr. McArthur, I don’t know what in the world you’retalking about.”
“I assume this little charade had something to do withtryouts for Longworth’s next play. See, as you know, I came in late, so Ididn’t have time to find out what my lines were.”
“Mr. McArthur, let me assure you that I’m no actor.I’m Lt. Dekker of the Hilldale Police Department, and this is Sgt. Murdock. Theman who fell over into his dessert is quite dead. He may or may not be anactor, but, believe me, he wasn’t acting.”
“You’re not kidding, are you?”
“I’m as serious as I can be.”
With that revelation McArthur turned quite pale.
When he regained his composure, I dismissed him andtold him to return to his room.
I looked at Lou and shook my head.
“What’s with that guy?”
“Well, he’s an actor. Maybe he thought all of us wereacting, or maybe he’s playing his part of the murderer quite well.”
I wanted to question the other guests. We were down toArthur Plankton and Isabel Dukenfield. I sent Lou to get Plankton.
I sat in my chair wondering what was taking Lou solong to return with the next suspect. I was about ready to send out a searchparty when my grim-faced partner returned.
He was out of breath, so I spoke first.
“So, where’s Plankton?”
He braced his hands against the table, wheezed alittle longer, then responded.
“Beats me. I knocked on his door, but he didn’t answer.When he didn’t respond to my second knock, I located Longworth, who reluctantlygave me a key. I motioned for Longworth to stay put and climbed the stairs tosearch for our missing man. He wasn’t in his room. I checked everywhere, includingthe shower. I found George, and he has organized a search party. We’ve alreadychecked all the exits. There were no footprints outside of any of the doors.”
I motioned for Lou to sit down while I pondered thesituation. Was Plankton our murderer, or our second victim? I knew thateventually we’d find out.
The sergeant and I talked for a couple of minutes anddecided to interrogate Isabel Dukenfield, instead of waiting for Plankton. Louleft to locate her. A few minutes later, he returned, again out of breath, butthis time giving me the peace sign. I had never known him to voice an opinionfor or against the war, so the peace sign was out of character for him. I waitedan eternity for my friend to breathe normally, and then found out the peacesign was no peace sign. He meant our missing person total had grown to two.The little old lady was nowhere to be found.
“This place is beginning to resemble the Bates Motel.Guests check in, but they don’t check out.”
“I thought that was the Roach Motel. Anyway, maybethat has something to do with the message I received this morning, ‘FordTheater and the Bates Motel.’”
“Does that mean that one of our missing persons can befound in the auditorium and the other one is the guilty party?”
“Well, neither one of them is in the shower spewingchocolate syrup all over the place, so I guess the auditorium is the next placeto look.”
I caught my partner’s reference to chocolate syrup andwondered how many other people knew that Alfred Hitchcock used chocolate syrupto simulate blood in the shower scene inPsycho.Right then, it didn’tmatter. As far as we knew, no one had been stabbed. Nor had our first victimbeen shot like Lincoln.
We didn’t know what to think. I wondered if ourchanging circumstances meant that our case was growing easier, or harder. Wewere rapidly running out of suspects with no confession in sight.
As we pondered how to proceed, Lou informed me thatGeorge and his men were searching the common areas first. Even with all theseats in the auditorium, it was easier to search the four rooms in the commonareas than to search all the empty sleeping rooms. I say four rooms, becausethere was no need to search the sitting room or the dining room. There were nowalls and both were within sight of Officer Davis’s post at the front door.
A few minutes later someone knocked at the conferenceroom door. I tossed aside any thoughts to the murderer giving himself orherself up, or that one of the two guests we were trying to locate had arrivedto make our job easier. Lou opened the door and invited a police officerinside.
“Lieutenant, we’ve found Plankton. He was in the pool,sir.”
“Taking a little swim?”
The officer smiled, nervously.
“With his clothes on. He’s dead, sir.”
Lou and I accompanied the officer to the indoor pooland saw the body lying at the bottom. I informed George that Mrs. Dukenfieldwas also missing, and asked him to disperse his team to look for her. As wespoke, two officers stripped to dive into the pool to retrieve Plankton’s body.Before they finished, I dashed to the phone to call Frank Harris. Upon recognizingmy voice, he spoke.
“Cy, the body just arrived, and they’re preparing itfor me now. You didn’t expect anything this soon, did you?”
“No, I was just curious as to whether or not two autopsiestake twice as long as one.”
“Don’t tell me you found another body.”
“No, someone else found it. You want to run out hereand check it out. This one was found in the pool. With his clothes on.”
“Okay, I’ll be right out. Of course you realizethis’ll hold me up from getting you the autopsy results.”
“No problem, Frank. I don’t expect anything before morning,anyway. And by the way, one of the other guests is missing. If you take yourtime I might have a third body for you before you get here.”
I questioned Officer Davis. No one had gone up or downthe front stairs since he arrived. At least, no one except police officers.From his post at the front door, he couldn’t see whether or not someone lefthis or her room and escaped down the back hall. If he’d been looking up thestairs, which he admitted he hadn’t done the entire time, it would’ve been impossiblefor someone to have darted by, hurried down the hall, and walked down the backstairs. But since Officer Davis was more concerned about the front door, andpaid little attention to the second floor, someone could’ve retreated via theback stairs. Regardless of whether or not Officer Davis had focused his attentionon the stairs, someone could’ve crawled down the corridor and not been seen byhim. To his credit, Officer Davis admitted to spending part of his time in acomfortable chair near the front door. He was certain no one had left throughthat door, but couldn’t confirm anything else.
Knowing that Frank Harris couldn’t make good time drivingthe road to Precipice Point on a wintry night, Lou and I caught up with Georgeand some officers in the library.
No Professor Plum. No candlestick. No Isabel Dukenfield.The room contained an elongated table, long enough to seat twenty people. Atone end of the room, we saw computers, something I knew nothing about. NeitherLou nor I had ever used a computer, despite friends and colleagues urging us todo so. Easy chairs stood in three of the four corners of the room. Well, notexactly in the corners. Chairs were far enough removed from the corners thateven a well-fed person like me could squeeze behind them without inhaling, inorder to peruse the books that lined the mahogany bookcases that surrounded theroom. Books were divided into categories. Engraved plates were affixed toeye-level shelves to help someone like me identify the subject of each sectionof books. There were classics, mysteries, and oversized books resplendent withpictures, but most of the shelves contained the works of great playwrights. Louhovered near the classics, but there was nothing there for me. Someone hadforgotten to include books containingThe Far Sidecartoons. Afterscanning the room and realizing there was no body in the bookcase, and no onehiding under the table, we scratched the library from our list and strolled tothe auditorium nearby.
Once inside the auditorium, we dispersed. Not wantingto tackle the stage or the balcony, I selected two officers to check out thoseseats. I walked the aisles, looking for hands or feet sticking out from under aseat, or for blood running downhill to the orchestra pit. By the time we’dconcluded that no one other than Hilldale’s finest inhabited the auditorium atthat moment, I looked at my watch. Lou and I would wait in the sitting roomuntil Frank Harris arrived. No one had mastered the art of sitting quite likethe two of us. The others were to continue the search of all downstairs rooms,except for the staff’s quarters. Lou and I would search those rooms provided wehadn’t found the old lady by the time we’d searched all the guest rooms upstairs.
We waited for Frank so that we could guide him to thelatest victim. At least it was the latest victim of which we were aware. Thefirst murderdeprivedus of our late night snack, but judging by ourevening meal, we weren’t deprived. Just malnourished. But I was prepared forjust such an occasion. I had not stashed all of my Hershey Almond bars in myroom. I had some in my coat pocket and was about to lower that total by onealmond and a miniscule bit of chocolate. I was sure more almonds and chocolatewould succumb to my hunger before Frank returned. I looked over at Lou just ashe attempted to guzzle another round of M&Ms and laughed when one escapedto the nether reaches of the couch. He thought for a moment, and then decidedto leave it for the next person on a treasure hunt. Unless he ran out of candybefore Frank arrived. I heard two vehicles pull up before I had polished off myfirst candy bar. Too bad our medical examiner was so punctual. Evidently hewanted to get to the body before rigor did.
Lou and I met Frank at the door.
“Well, Cy, have you and Lou been here waiting patientlyever since you phoned?”
“You know it, Frank.”
“Well, it looks like you were hit by a small piece ofchocolate while you waited,” he said as he pointed to the edge of my mouth.
I looked over and noticed Officer Davis smiling at myexpense. I would get even with him later. I turned with a response to Frank’sretort.
“All this searching wore us out. Lou and I needed somethingto give us enough strength to go on looking for bodies.”
“Take your time looking. My wife wants to see me beforespring.”
We were on our way to the pool when George interceptedus. His men had finished the first floor and found a second conference room,but found nobody and no body. He told his men they could rest in the sittingroom until Lou and I returned. I had the only passkey that would open each doorin the inn, and I didn’t want to ask Longworth for a second key. I wanted toknow what cards I held before I encountered him again.
It was 11:00 o’clock before Frank left with the secondbody. I told him to go on and we’d call with information about the third bodyshortly after he returned to the morgue.
Lou and I offered to search the few rooms in our wing,allowing George Michaelson and his boys to rest a while longer. I knew Georgehad already put in a full day before I called him, so he, for one, would relishthe time off his feet.
We had to check every room, and that meanteveryroom. I decided to get a certain room over with first. I knocked on the door,and became quickly disappointed. Not only was Heloise Humphert in her room, shewas coherent. Well, as coherent as she is any other time. When she discoveredit was me, she yanked the door open and grinned.
“Oh, Cyrus, I knew you’d come. I told Twinkle Toesyou’d come, and you didn’t disappoint me.”
“Miss Humphert, I don’t have time for you or Muffyright now. The woman who sat next to you at dinner has disappeared. We have tofind her.”
“If I disappear, Cyrus, will you come looking for me?”
“Of course, it would be my job to find you, but youcan’t disappear now. I’m too busy with other things. You must stay in yourroom.”
I failed to mention how much time would elapse beforeI went looking for her, but she didn’t need to know everything.
“But Cyrus, Twinkle Toes has to do her business.”
“Your room has a balcony. Let her go out there.”
“But I think she has to go the other way now.”
“How about if I find a rope, then we can tie it aroundher neck and drop her to the ground? As I lower her, I’ll yank the rope a fewtimes to see if she’s still there.”
“Cyrus, you’ve offended Twinkle Toes. See how crestfallenshe looks.”
In a weak moment I agreed to send Lou to take TwinkleToes for a walk. That would even things for his letting Heloise Humphert knowwhich room was mine. I reminded him that dogs respond better if you walk themnear the edge of a cliff in the dark. He let me know that wouldn’t happenunless the leash was a lot longer than he thought it was. As it turned out, mypartner merely opened the side door, stepped out a few feet, and informed thedog she had two minutes.
Lou and I had finished checking all the front roomswhen George raced up the steps. From his hurried manner, I expected at leasttwo more bodies.
“Cy, it’s Frank. He needs to talk to you.”
Reluctantly, I took George’s phone.
“Frank, so nice of you to call to let us know you gothome okay.”
“I wish I could go home. Cy, I was right when I toldyou I might have a surprise for you. We’ve got a problem here.”
“What’s the matter? Your chainsaw quit working?”
“No, it’s about the victim. The first one.”
“You mean he isn’t dead?”
“Oh, he’s dead all right.”
“Then what’s the problem.”
“This guy isn’t who you think he is.”
“You mean he isn’t Myles Mycroft?”
“I don’t know about that. He doesn’t have any I.D. onhim.”
“Then, I don’t understand. I don’t really know anythingabout him other than his name is supposed to be Myles Mycroft. Come to think ofit, the name does sound made up.”
“What I mean is the guy’s wearing makeup.”
“You mean he’s a fairy?”
“I don’t know about that. I mean he’s wearing actor’smakeup. Actually, it’s more like fake skin, false teeth, and hair that isn’this own.”
“I know lots of people who wear hair and teeth thataren’t their own, but that doesn’t make them fairies.”
“Forget the fairy stuff, will you, Cy. I mean, wasthere some reason this guy’s disguised?”
“Maybe he’s an actor. But why would he wear makeup unlessthis whole thing’s a play?”
I thought for a moment, wondering if maybe this was aplay, and Lou and I were the suckers sent here by someone from the department,who would see that we remember this moment from now on. I remembered that TonyMcArthur acted like everything was part of a play.
“Come clean, Frank. Is he really dead, or is all thisa joke?”
“It’s no joke, at least not to the dead guy overthere. I’ll see what I can find out, and when I get all the makeup off him,we’ll see if you or anyone else can identify him. By the way, I think thesecond guy was made up, too.”
Could it be that my next-door neighbor, the one whoneeded a new face more than anyone, was the only one other than Lou and me whocame wearing no disguise? I pondered what Frank’s comments meant. The guy wasdead. Both guys were dead. I scratched them off the suspect list. But the listwas dwindling. The only guest we had left, other than my next-door neighbor,was missing. Could that missing old lady be responsible for murdering two men,and whether she did or not, where was she?
I stopped my woolgathering when I noticed a passel ofpolicemen looking at me. All would rather have been home in a nice warm bedthan hunting for murder suspects.
“Okay, men, there’s only one passkey. We’ve checkedthe entire inn, except for guest rooms and employees’ quarters. It’s almostmidnight. Let’s check the rooms in the back. To save time, I’ll walk down thehall and open each door. As I unlock a door, one of you will check out eachroom. Remember to check the shower and under the bed. We should have thisknocked out in no time.”
Since we didn’t interrupt those checking the food forpoisons and the three men guarding the front door, I soon found myself with noofficer beside me. I unlocked a door and stepped inside. The room was nicelyfurnished, and quite different from my own, both in color scheme and type offurniture. I knew little about decorating, but I knew enough to know thatLongworth had spared no expense decorating any of the rooms. I had finishedchecking the room and was closing and locking the door when one of the men ranup to me.
“Lieutenant, did you say that no one is staying in anyof these rooms?”
“That’s right, Son.”
“Well, while there was no one in the room I checked, Ibelieve someone is staying in it. There’s a suitcase, clothes hanging up, andpersonal items scattered in the bathroom.”
“Let me see the room.”
The young officer led me to the room in question.While the bed was made, it was obvious someone had been staying in the room. Atleast, someone’s belongings were in there. All that I could tell was that itwas a man. I wondered who it could be, since Mr. Longworth told us none of theback rooms were occupied. Could someone have been using the room without hisknowledge? Could it have been the murderer, who may not even be registered? Ifso, how could he have gotten in?
By 12:30, we’d finished checking all the rooms off themiddle and back hallway. There was no one in any of the rooms, and none of theother rooms contained evidence that they had been occupied recently.
All of us were tired from working so late. I made a decision.I would open rooms for each of them to get some rest. Each room contained analarm clock. I told each man to set the alarm for 6:00, except for those whowould relieve the men guarding the doors. George arranged a schedule where,every two hours, each man would be relieved from guard duty, in order to getsome rest. We would reconvene by the front desk at 6:30.
Lou stopped by my room to rehash the case before retiringfor the night.
“What do you make of all this, Lou?”
“It’s too early for me to tell.”
“Okay, let’s take a minute to talk about what we know.Maybe if we sleep on it we can solve it in our sleep.”
“Provided the murderer doesn’t break into our rooms inthe middle of the night.”
On that cheery thought, I continued.
“We have two people murdered and another one missing.As far as we can tell, our murderer is someone who works at the inn, TonyMcArthur, or Isabel Dukenfield, who may be living or dead.”
“If that’s our total suspect list, then it looks likewe can narrow our lists of suspects to one.”
“How’s that, Lou?”
“Well, Cy, someone traipsed through the snow to leaveyou a note this morning. Everyone but McArthur was here at the inn thismorning, and there was no break in the snow when we arrived. Only McArthurarrived after we did.”
“Which will present a magnanimous problem if we learnthat McArthur really was in Chicago at the time the footprints were left.”
“I know the person who wrote the note acted like hewas one person acting alone, but could it be we have two people workingtogether, and one of them has an alibi while the other one is wreaking havoc?”
“The problem is that we’re having trouble coming upwith one suspect without an alibi. How in the world are we going to come upwith two?”
“Well, we can always pin it on your next-door neighbor.She could’ve left the note, and she did arrive after we did.”
“Is there any way we can implicate the dog, too?”
Lou and I found out something a long time ago. It’s importantto take your job seriously, but if you take it too seriously, it can be yourdownfall. Even in the most stressful of moments we take time for levitywhenever possible. We laughed at the good sergeant’s suggestion, realized we’dgotten nowhere, and went to bed. Maybe we’d solve the murder in our sleep.
Tired, I dosed off quickly. As is usually the casewhen I’m exhausted after working hard during a murder investigation, I began todream. I was sitting at the inn’s dining room table. I looked around the table.Everyone else at the table had fallen into their soup. Mrs. Longworth stood besideme, and spoke.
“Now, Lieutenant, you must eat your arsenic soup beforeit gets warm.”
I pushed her away and ran. Mrs. Longworth ran afterme, sloshing the soup as she bore down upon me. I turned a corner, found adoor, and yanked at the knob. It opened, and I followed the steps that leddown. The steps continued to lead down, and finally I heard a sound, as ifsomeone were digging. I could see a faint light in the distance. As I descendedthe light grew stronger. I reached the bottom step and turned right, the onlyway I could turn. I froze as I encountered Longworth, shovel in hand.
“Come, come, Lieutenant. Let me measure you for yourgrave. You are so much larger than the others. You and the sergeant. Hurry! Imust get everyone buried before the next guests arrive.”
I screamed and woke. I found myself under the bed,batting a house slipper at a table leg. I slid from under the bed and made amental note that next time I would ask for a room with beds closer to thefloor. But would that help? Maybe I should seek safer work. Was it too late forme to become an engineer?
Shortly after I went to bed for the second time, aterrible noise woke me. I sat up, looked in the direction of the awful sound.It seemed to come from a little box that had lights on the front that showed6:00. I fumbled with the buttons, got the noise to stop. I contemplated turningover and going back to sleep, then pictured angry men with a passkey lining thesides of my bed, contemplating murder. I hoisted myself from my comforter, andstumbled to the bathroom. Thankfully, my eyes had not adjusted to the new day,so I didn’t look as bad as I expected. I splashed water on my face, rinsed myeyes, and suddenly, I looked worse. I shed my pajamas and stepped into theshower. I had just enough time to take a shower, pray, and read my dailydevotional book before I met the others. I thought of Lou. I know that he doesa Bible study booklet assignment every morning that takes close to an hour. Iknew he wouldn’t miss a morning. Lou had set his alarm for sometime before6:00.
As I walked down the steps George Michaelson walkedtoward me.
“Our keeper has been kept long enough. He wants toknow if he can get back to business as usual. Also, the SOC team finished inthe kitchen. None of the food was poisoned, and they found no poison anywherein the area.”
“Evidently, they didn’t check that stuff Lou and I atelast night.”
I wondered where the poison had come from, providedthe deceased had been poisoned. Evidently, whoever poisoned these two men keptthe poison secured somewhere in his or her room, provided that there was anypoison left. It would be easy for someone to throw a container of poison overthe cliff, if he had no further use for it. A person with a good throwingmotion could possibly heave a bottle from the roof. As far as I could tell, ifsomeone brought poison and no longer had any of it, he or she would’ve had tohave tossed it from the roof or washed it down the sink. I made a note to checkfor evidence as we continued our search for Mrs. Dukenfield.
George stood there as I pondered the situation. When Imade eye contact again, he knew I was through for the moment. I excused myself,walked behind the counter, and knocked on the door of the Longworth’s privatequarters. Longworth opened the door, and I opened my mouth before he could openhis. I kept him abreast of the situation. At least as much as I wanted to tellhim. I let him know that another guest was missing, and a second body hadturned up. I cushioned the blow by letting him know that the SOC team werethrough in the kitchen, so it was okay for the chef to go back to work. It wasdifficult not to choke on those words. I asked him about extras at breakfast.He agreed to serve everyone, and bill the city. Then, I told him we would needto search the living quarters of each of the inn’s staff. I explained that itwouldn’t take long. We were merely looking for bodies, dead or alive. I didn’ttell him about vials of poison. I allowed Longworth to let each person know thatwe needed to search all the premises. I didn’t want to walk in on Mrs.Longworth, just in case breakfast would be an improvement over dinner. Iinstructed him that Miss Humphert needed to be served in her room. MissHumphert and McArthur were the only guests who had been located alive whoweren’t members of the police department. I wanted to keep one for a suspect,and one for a victim, but wanted to allow Frank to catch up on his autopsiesbefore I fed him another body. I asked that Miss Humphert’s server make heraware of her restriction, and that they find something that the dog could eat.I refrained from recommending the previous night’s leftovers.
With that chore completed, I assembled the troops. Wewould do a visual check of the outdoors from each of the doors and windows. IfMrs. Dukenfield was not found in some of the staff’s quarters, we would do anoutdoor search after breakfast, footprints, or no footprints. But first, Icaught up with Longworth and asked him directions on how to get to the roof. Itwould be our first adventure after breakfast. Well, our first adventure afterwe checked the staff’s quarters.
A search of the staff’s quarters indicated nothing, exceptthe neatness or messiness of each person. No extra people inhabited any of therooms. No bodies were found stuffed in the closet. I assumed there were nodrugs or poisons. Our hurried search didn’t include squeezing all thetoothpaste out of each tube. Nor did we cut open each mattress.
A second indoor search after breakfast revealed nothing.Daylight was upon us, and it was time to wrap up and search outside. But first,we would tackle the roof.
As it turned out, what we thought was an upstairs closetwas our pathway to the roof disguised as a closet. Were there other methods ofdisguise inhibiting our progress? One at a time we pushed away the clotheshanging in the pseudo-closet and climbed the stairs. I led the way and took mytime doing so. At the top of the stairs, I encountered a door, which waslocked. I shined my flashlight on the door and discovered that only a hookprevented me from opening it. I sprung the hook, opened the door, and steppedout into the icy climate. Before I did so, I noticed that the walkway had beenshoveled clean. No snow. No footprints. No clues.
I walked at once to the parapet, leaned over and perusedthe expansive area. Being up high increased our ability to see over the cliff,but we were neither high enough nor close enough to the cliff to see all theway to the bottom. If we hadn’t been in the middle of a murder investigation,I’d have taken time to enjoy the view. There’s just something beautiful about asnow-covered world as long as you don’t have to drive through it. But in amanner of speaking, we did have to drive through this snow-covered world, andwe had a murder to solve. Maybe we could come back in the spring, if no one hasbeen murdered, to enjoy the view.
I stepped away from the parapet and led our team. Wewalked around lemming style and leaned over the side at intervals of twenty orso feet. For the most part, we saw nothing, but at one corner of the house wenoticed footprints leading to the edge of the cliff. Only one set offootprints, but they didn’t return. I hoped our murderer hadn’t committedsuicide. It might be hard to prove. Then, another idea struck me. What if someone had carried Mrs. Dukenfield to the edge of the cliff and thrown her over?But then, if they had, there would’ve been returning footprints. Regardless,because of some misguided individual, a cornucopia of cops would have to trekto the edge of the cliff. One man fell in his dinner. Another one dived to thebottom of a swimming pool. Could it be that a third had plunged to her death?And if so, was I supposed to be getting a message from this? That reminded me.Lou and I hadn’t talked about his message of the day. I would find out thatmessage as soon as I could get him by himself.
After completing our tour of the roof and finding nomore clues, we rushed to the rooftop door to do something about our blue skin.But only for a moment. None of us expected the temperature to rocket before wereached the front door to engage in a tour of the premises.
Before we toured the grounds, I accosted Longworth andfound out that Manfred had shoveled the snow from the roof on Friday morning,before we arrived. I asked Longworth why Manfred had done it so quickly. Heresponded that it was because there was a large amount of snow, and the snowhad nowhere to go. Heavy snow could cause the roof to collapse. Melted snowcould cause leaks. Longworth said it was better to be safe than sorry.
I hastily pulled Lou aside and asked him his clue forthe day.
“North By Northwest.”
“What is this? Hitchcock week? First we get somethingabout the Bates Motel, and nowNorth By Northwest.”
“I don’t’ make them up. I just repeat what I hear.”
“So, He’s started to speak to you.”
“Not out loud.”
“So, what do you think it means? Is an airplane gonnatry to dust us off for good in the middle of a corn field?”
“I don’t know. I just hope no one locks the two of usin an upper berth on a train.”
“Those berths aren’t big enough.”
I turned and found several pairs of eyes looking atus. It was time to abate our rhetoric. At least for the time being. Besides,none of my mental pictures fromNorth By Northwestwere anything Iwanted to keep with me, and it was time to venture outdoors.
All of us walked out the front door. Half went to theleft. Half to the right. Each of us stayed next to the inn and walked aroundthe building until we met the other group. I led one group, George the other.Only my breath preceded me. We trudged along through the deep snow, seeingneither a body nor an escaping human. Our side of the building turned upnothing. Just as I turned to check out the back side, I stopped. A portlysergeant brushed against me. He stepped aside and saw what I saw. I hadmomentarily forgotten about the footprints heading up the hill to the edge ofthe cliff. They seemed to come from the wall of the building. Suddenly we had amurderer, or fearful lodger, who could walk through buildings. We stood, waitingon the others. They arrived to see what we’d discovered. They encountered noevidence of anyone on the elevated island until they met up with us. After amoment’s discussion, we followed our lone clue. We walked side-by-side, so thatno policeman would be pushed over the cliff by the one behind him. We stoppedtwo feet from the edge of the cliff, and I surmised the situation. A tree grewupward not more than six inches from the cliff. I stood there, stunned, asOfficer Davis stepped to the edge of the cliff, leaned forward, and grasped thetree with both hands. It wasn’t something a sane man would’ve done, but then asane man would never have applied for a position with the police department.
As I looked around for someone to notify Officer Davis’snext of kin, the young man stepped back and said, “Look, Lieutenant.”Now I wasn’t the only lieutenant there. George was there, too, but OfficerDavis didn’t look at George when he said, “Look, Lieutenant.”
I had no choice but to do what Officer Davis suggested.To refuse to do so would earn me the nickname Chicken Little for the rest of mydays. Another insane man, this time a chubby one, called out to God for help,then stepped forward and braced himself against the tree. I looked down andsaid, “Well, I’ll be.” While I knew I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t expecting Lou totap me on the shoulder and say, “What is it, Cy?” Only the gloves I wore keptme from scraping my hands on the tree as I fell. A couple of seconds later, myfeet landed with a thud on a ledge, three feet below the edge of a cliff. Myknees buckled, but thankfully my hands still strangled the tree in front of me.I had survived, and I would live long enough to kill a sergeant. If my headhadn’t been visible above the edge of the cliff, I would’ve made the sound sooften heard when someone has been pushed from a window of a high rise, a soundthat lasts from the time the victim discovers free flight until he or she goessplat on the sidewalk below. I wanted my former friend to worry. Instead, Iturned and said the words that scared him almost as much. “Lou, get down here.”
A humble sergeant pointed to himself, as if he was notthe only Lou in our enclave. I smiled and nodded, feeling like Oliver Hardy asI did so. I could see my partner visualizing who might receive his badge andgun to remember him by. Lou reached out, wrapped his hands around the tree Ihad pushed away from, and wondered what to do next. It would take him longer toreach the ledge than it did me. No one tapped him on the shoulder. The firstrobin of spring arrived before Lou joined me on the ledge. It gave me time torealize what scene fromNorth By Northwestour good Father meant.
Before Lou tapped me on the shoulder as I clutched thetree and looked down, I noticed two sets of footprints on the snowy ledge. Oneset led to the cliff wall, the other followed the ledge as it sloped downwardand curved around the precipice. After I’d fallen, wiped out a few footprints,and regained my senses, I realized that the footprints that led up against thecliff actually disappeared inside an opening that looked much like a cave. Isurmised that both sets of footprints were left by the same person as a ruse,hoping to confuse us.
I deduced that I had a slightly better chance ofliving if I checked out the footprints leading into the cave rather than onesthat wrapped around the precipice like the grooves on a screw. I braced myselfagainst the side of the cliff, pulled my flashlight from my pocket, and shinedmy light inside the cave. No bullets whizzed by my head. No angry bear chargedto see who had awakened him. I grew a little bolder and stepped into theopening. I couldn’t see the back of the cave from where I stood. I reported tothe others what I had found and told them I would check to see where theopening went. I asked George to send reinforcements if he heard sounds ofviolence, or if we didn’t return within two minutes. Then, I motioned for Louto go first.
The footprints disappeared almost immediately. I suspectedthat the culprit stomped the snow from his or her feet, before entering thecave, provided someone had actually ventured inside. Lou and I had to bendslightly to step inside. The ground sloped slightly at first, but then leveledout. After a few more feet, the pathway widened until it resembled a room withno stalagmites or stalactites to be found. Hard dirt floors and walls and acool temperature, but warmer than the temperatures we faced outside.
By the time our time was up, Lou and I had rejoinedthe others. We had found three wooden staircases leading upward in variousdirections. I asked George for six men, and asked him to lead the others aroundthe grounds to see if they could discover anything significant. Not wanting tobe trampled to death, Lou and I stepped inside the cave as each man jumped tothe ledge. Each man leaped more gracefully than the two middle-aged men had. I chalked that up to preparedness. Each of them knew that he would bejumping. I had been pushed by an offensive lineman.
I had each man step inside the cave while I addressedthe group. One of the men who joined Lou and me was Officer Davis. It was timeto get even with him for what he had done to me. If he hadn’t beckoned me tothe edge of the cliff, I wouldn’t have found myself in such a predicament. Iinstructed Officer Davis and another officer to follow the footprints thathugged the cliff to see where they went. I motioned for the other men to pairoff and follow Lou and me inside the cave and six flashlights focused on thepath ahead. After a few steps, we stopped in the expansive area Lou and I hadfound a few minutes earlier. Nearby, to our left, the first staircase rose fromthe hard dirt floor. It was the steepest of the three staircases. Too steep forPlump and Plumper. I chose two men, told them to take the staircase, but toproceed with caution and venture forth as quietly as possible. The secondflight of steps sprang from the middle of the room, much like a beautifulstaircase in a stately home. I motioned for the other twosome to mount thatedifice. I stood and watched the first two teams go to work. A few secondsbefore, our flashlights had merged. Now, as we headed off in three directions,the lights more closely resembled a shotgun effect. Satisfied that bothtwosomes would accomplish their tasks and report back to us in time, Lou and Iwalked the remaining steps to the last flight of stairs. The gradual sloping ofthe steps showed me that our climb would be the easiest of the three, butlogistics suggested that we would have the greater number of steps to climb.Our path led to the far side of the inn. We had no railings to help us climb,but the climb was as easy as any could be for two men of our magnitude. Thesteps headed straight at first, then gradually curved to the left. It got tothe point when we could see only a few feet ahead of us. If we were to meetanyone on our trek, we wouldn’t surprise them, nor would they surprise us. Eventhose less mentally gifted individuals know that bobbling flashlights don’ttravel alone.
Lou and I climbed a few stairs, rested until we couldbreathe normally again, then climbed a few more.
I leaned forward with both hands just above my knees.I stopped wheezing just as I was about to topple forward. I stood up and almostsmiled as I saw my partner in a similar predicament.
Once I could talk, I turned to my friend.
“Hey, Lou, if we get out of here, do you think they’lllet us in one of those Lamaze classes so we can learn how to breathe whilewalking up steps?”
“The way you sounded, I could’ve sworn that you’d alreadyattended one of those classes.”
“I don’t know how to break it to you, but you didn’tsound so great yourself.”
“I’ll have you know I breathe just fine as long as youdon’t make me exercise my body any more than God intended.”
“So, it’s all my fault. Listen, buddy, I haven’tforgotten who pushed me off that cliff.”
“I didn’t push you. I merely tapped you on your shoulder.I can’t help it if you’re a bit jumpy.”
“We’ll see how jumpy you are. I’ll let you stand onthe edge of the cliff next time. Now, are you ready to proceed?”
As we continued our journey, I thought of my second favoriteform of exercise. Riding an elevator up and down. At that moment, I would’vetaken my chances on an escalator.
A few days later, we reached a wooden door. The doorhad a latch, but the latch wasn’t fastened. I put my finger to my lips toinsure my partner’s silence, and rested my ear upon the door. I heard nothingfrom the other side. As far as I was concerned, the door could’ve led anywhere.I merely hoped that it didn’t open on the bottom of the swimming pool. I didn’twant to open the door only to encounter pouring water that would push us downthe steps, out the cave entrance, and over the cliff.
I cracked open the door. A sliver of light entered. Noone yanked on the door from the other side. No gun barrel squeezed through theopening. I opened the door the rest of the way, and Lou and I found ourselvesin one of the inn’s two garages, the one that housed Lightning. I lookedaround, noticed that we were alone. Alone with a few vehicles. Immediately, Inoticed a difference in the garage from when I had parked Lightning there theday before. On Friday, I parked one space over from where someone had parked atruck. The truck was no longer in the garage. Someone had backed the truck outof the garage, driven down the driveway, and left the inn. Could it have beenour murderer?
Because Lou was inside when I parked Lightning, hehadn’t seen the truck, so I let him know that not all the inmates were still atthe asylum. We stood there trying to make sense of the situation. As we did so,I spotted George and some other men combing the grounds. I motioned to Lou andwe walked to George to tell him our findings, and see if he had anything toreport. As we grew abreast of him, the front door of the inn opened and two menrushed toward us, two of the men who tackled one of the other staircases. Theirstaircase led to the library. There was a button at the top of their staircase.When they pushed the button, the wall opened just like a door and the two menstepped into a vacant library. After they moved through the entrance, the wallof books slid back into place.
As they related their story, a third duo walked aroundthe corner of the inn. We soon learned that halfway up the third staircase theyencountered a panel and a button. They too pushed a button, and when they didso the wall slid away and they found themselves looking out at the footprintsthat led from the wall of the inn to the edge of a cliff. Realizing that theirjob was only half done, the twosome continued on up the stairway and found thatit ended inside a second floor closet. Could it be the one that led to the roof?Regardless, it explained how someone could’ve sneaked down the second floor hallway,entered the closet, and walked down the staircase which exited at the corner ofthe building. From that point, it was merely a walk to the edge of the cliff, adrop of three feet, and then a walk up another flight of stairs. Then, someonecould’ve entered the garage in the middle of the night, pushed the truckdownhill, and refrained from starting it and making any noise until he or shehad gained the bridge. But why go to all the trouble of walking out to the edgeof the cliff, when it was easier to walk down one set of stairs and up anotherto the garage? Could it be that there were two people making tracks? Or wassomeone creating red herrings to make our jobs more difficult? At any rate, amorning check had revealed that everyone was accounted for except Mrs.Dukenfield. Could the old lady have flown the coop? Or did someone do away withher? Maybe someone sent her, truck and all, over the cliff. Eventually, wewould find out.
Another thing bothered me. How could the old lady haveknown about the closet? She was a guest. Longworth said he didn’t know her.Could someone who worked at the inn have made those footprints instead?
Only Officer Davis and his companion were left to beheard from. Having had enough of the cold, a passel of policemen reentered theinn. I located Longworth.
“Mr. Longworth, I want to ask you again, do you knowany of the guests who have spent time here this week?”
“None of their names or faces are familiar to me.”
I wasn’t satisfied with that answer. I suspected hewas lying, but I had no way to prove it. I pressed on.
“Mr. Longworth, we are commandeering the library foran undisclosed amount of time. Two of our officers are out on the property.When they return, will you ask them to join us?”
I pushed open the library door and stepped inside. Theothers followed. The two officers who climbed the staircase that led to thelibrary pointed to the section of the bookcase which had parted a few minutesbefore and allowed them to enter the library. We walked over and searched for abutton, a spring, some mechanism that would open the wall from this side. Ididn’t think it was relevant to what had happened. Possibly it was the onlystaircase that hadn’t been used in the middle of the night. I wondered what allof the cloak and dagger stuff meant. Why did someone use the underground passageways?Why did someone leave a note on my windshield to lure me to asoon-to-be-committed murder? Someone liked playing games. Someone liked jerkingmy chain.
After a few minutes of trying to find out how someonecould leave the library without using the door, we found a recessed buttonunder the table. When we pushed it, one section of the bookcase swung open intothe room, just as if someone had opened a door. With that problem solved, wesat down at the table to see if our collective thoughts revealed anything else.
“Anyone have any ideas as to what has happened here,who did it, and how it occurred?” I asked to open proceedings.
“Only the obvious,” George replied. “Somehow, a womanposing as Mrs. Dukenfield poisoned a couple of other guests, hid for a while, and sneaked out in the middle of the night after all of us were asleepor searching rooms in the back of the inn.”
“And what if we find Mrs. Dukenfield dead?” I asked.
“Then it’s up to you to find out which of these otherpeople did her in.”
“Did any of you men on guard duty hear a vehicle runningin the middle of the night?”
As I expected, no one had. All but one of the guardsmenwere present at that moment. I would put the question to Officer Davis when hereturned. Somehow, I didn’t expect him to tell me that the little old ladyknocked on the door before she left, asked if anyone needed anything from town,and told him she’d be back sometime the next day.
Further rambles got us no closer to solving the case.Maybe we’d know more after Frank finished the autopsy report.
I looked at my watch. We had been in the library almostan hour. Officer Davis and the other officer had not returned. I was concerned.I contemplated asking for volunteers to locate the two men. As I was about toask, a noise startled us. Most everyone at the table jumped when the bookcaseswung open to reveal the two missing policemen.
“Where in the world have you two been?” I exclaimed,much like an outraged parent whose children had stayed out past curfew.
“Following the ledge, just like you asked,” Officer Davisreplied. “Lieutenant, that ledge spiraled around the mountain much like themarkings on a corkscrew. The footprints ended after twenty or thirty steps, butwe traipsed on through the snow in order to see where the ledge led. Eventually,it touched down on the ground way below the top of the cliff. There’s a streamdown there. Actually, wider and deeper than a stream. We walked around to seeif anyone could’ve crossed it, but we found no evidence that anyone had.Satisfied, we reclimbed the hill, only climbing that snowy hill is a lot harderthan walking down it. I’m afraid to say that we stopped, out of breath a fewtimes before we arrived at the place where we began. Because of the wet snow,neither of us was able to grab hold of something and pull ourselves back up thecliff. We had no choice but to check out the cave. I don’t mean any offense,Lieutenant, but there’s no way I figured you could’ve climbed back up. Ifigured you must’ve found a way out in that cave. We found the staircases, anddecided to try one of them. This was the first one we tried. I don’t know whowas more shocked when that bookcase opened, the two of us or all of you.”
Everyone laughed at Officer Davis’s remark.
“Officer Davis, I assume you didn’t see a truck anywherein your exploits? Like at the bottom of the cliff?”
“Did you by any chance hear someone leaving in a truckin the middle of the night, or early this morning?”
“No, Lieutenant. Things were relatively quiet duringmy shift. Once all of you settled down for the night, the only time I sawanother human being was when Officer Downs came to relieve me so I could getsome sleep.”
We left the conference room and returned to the lobby.I could think of no reason to detain the other officers any longer, so I toldGeorge that Lou and I could handle things until further notice. As George and Istood talking I could see Longworth trying to get my attention. I excusedmyself and went to see what Longworth wanted.
“I don’t know if this interests you, or not,Lieutenant, but one of yesterday’s expected guests has arrived.”
“Oh, and who might that be?”
“A Mr. Claude Williams from Peoria, Illinois. Mr. Williamsmanages a motel in Peoria. He told me he had left the stress of running a motelbehind for a few days, plus he plans to see how we run things here.”
“And did Mr. Williams give any reason for arrivinglate?”
“The weather delayed him.”
I asked for Williams’s room number. After I bid goodbyeto my compatriots, I would pay him a visit.
I informed Sidney Longworth that the other policemenwere leaving, and as far as he was concerned, it would be business as usual. Heasked how long Sgt. Murdock and I would be staying. I told him I didn’t know,but I wanted to retain the conference room for further questioning. He lookednervous and displeased, but said nothing.
After the uniformed officers left, George asked me ifI’d walk out with him. I knew something was on his mind, but not sure what.
We wrapped up and I opened the door and felt the coldair smack us in the face. We stepped out onto the front steps, and I turned toclose the door. As I turned back to George, I noticed the smile on his face. Iknew I was in for it.
“Cy, I know you know what you’re doing, but I havesome advice for you, from one friend to another.”
“Okay, George, get it over with.”
“Well, Cy, I know I’m more of an outdoorsman than youare, so I wanted to help you shore up the areas where you don’t have a clue.The next time you decide to go rappelling off the side of a cliff, would youplease use ropes instead of a tree? For a minute I thought we were going tohave to send a team down to the bottom to carry your body up.”
“You mean you thought I didn’t know the ledge wasthere?”
“Cy, that look on your face was real. The last time Isaw you that scared was when someone else got the last piece of pie at the policemen’sChristmas dinner a couple of years ago. And if you thought you were scared, youshould’ve seen Lou.”
“Do you mean when I fell or when I asked him to joinme?”
The two of us laughed, shook hands, and George told meto call him the next time I found myself in a jam. Then, he walked off to thattank he drives, and I turned to go back inside.
I informed Lou about our new guest and told him that Iwanted to question Williams before we reconvened in the library.
I mounted the steps, walked down the hall until I cameto Williams’s room. I knocked, and shortly a man opened the door. He seemed torecognize me, but caught himself and assumed an aloof persona. I introducedmyself and asked for a minute of his time. He seemed frightened, but relented,and opened the door for me to enter. Five minutes later I had no moreinformation than I had gathered from Longworth. This one needed watching, but Icould think of no reason to detain him any longer, so I excused myself. Maybe Iwould question him further at lunch.
I walked out. Lou told me he would meet me in theconference room, so I ambled down the hall to see how we could muddle the casemore than we had up to that point. We hunkered down and started to work. Well,as much as one can hunker down in a conference room.
“Any comments before we start?”
“No, Cy, you start.”
“Okay, let’s look at what we have so far. We have twoguests, Miles Mycroft and Arthur Plankton, dead. We don’t know why someonewished to eliminate them. We have another guest, Isabel Dukenfield, missing.It’s possible that she fell over the cliff, and when I check with Longworth tosee what kind of vehicle she was driving, we might know whether or not sheescaped. We have a third guest, Claude Williams, who came to the inn a day laterthan he had planned. We have a fourth guest, whose name I do not yet know, whodidn’t arrive. Or did he? We have the inns two owners and five employees.Somewhere in this mess we have a murderer. Unless you have something moreurgent, I plan to talk to Longworth, get the addresses of each of the guests,and call Sam Schumann to see what he can tell us about them. Also, when I havelearned what mode of transportation Mrs. Dukenfield used to get to the inn,I’ll check the garage to see if her vehicle is still there. While she didn’tlook like someone who would drive a truck, no other vehicle is missing. Maybeshe stole someone else’s transportation. Anything I’m neglecting?”
“The only thing I can think of, Cy, is to find out ifLongworth knows who used the room in the back wing that was supposed to bevacant.”
“I had planned to do that. I want to bring Longworthback in here to see what else he’ll tell us. We might learn something more. Wemight not. But, I want to get him in here and see if additional questions makehim nervous. Anything else, Lou?”
“Just that I figured the old lady left either becauseshe is our murderer, or she knows who the murderer is and figured she might benext. Do you reckon Longworth knew all these people and invited them out so hecould butcher them?”
“I wouldn’t exactly call these victims butchered. Butto answer your question, no, I don’t think Longworth got them here to murderthem. I’d think if he were the killer, he would have lured them somewhere wherehe has no ties.”
“Any possibility that one of the victims was killed byaccident? After all, if Frank’s guess is right, the men were poisoned. Could itbe that one or the other of them drank or ate something intended for someoneelse?”
“Maybe we can better answer that question after Frankgets back to us and lets us know how the victims were murdered. It’s possiblethat both weren’t murdered in the same way. Maybe, Plankton drowned in thatpool.”
“Maybe, but somehow I don’t think so.”
“Oh, one other thing, Cy. Why was Mycroft wearing a disguise,so to speak? Was he afraid of someone here? Was it important for him to behere, but also important that no one recognized him? And is it possible that heand someone else chose this place to have it out, and the other person spottedhis disguise and won out?”
“Another good point, Lou, and of course, I don’t knowthe answer. Let’s go back to the note I received on my car. That person was sosure he or she would get the best of me, but how could he be sure, and which ofthe people we’ve met best fits the description of someone who’s so sure that heor she will win? Could it be Longworth, who sits here in his castle unafraid ofme, or someone else? Or could it be McArthur, who might be playing dumb when heacted like he thought this whole thing was part of a play, or a tryout forone?”
We weren’t getting anywhere sitting on our keisters,so it was time to get to work. I left Lou to question Longworth, but returnedafter spotting the morning snacks had been set out for the few guests who wereleft. Even though there was only a few different kinds of unrecognizable cheesesquares, healthy-looking crackers, and grapes, I told Lou to grab some so wewould have something to eat before tackling our candy. He set out to do thatwhile I cornered Longworth. When we were finished talking, Longworth gave me alist of all the guests and employees of the inn. All the employees lived atthe inn. He provided the guests’ addresses. I also had him write down the timethat each guest registered. The inn didn’t ask for car license numbers, and hehad no idea what Isabel Dukenfield drove. I thanked him. I would question himmore later, as well as each of his employees. Maybe I would learn somethingnew.
While Lou made a couple of trips to the conferenceroom, I ran to my room and called Sam Schumann. Anytime I had any leg work thatneeded to be done, Sam was my man. No one in the department looked lessconspicuous and could gather more information than Sam Schumann.
“This is Sam I Am, dining on green eggs and ham.”
“Sounds better than the stuff I’ve been eating.”
“Well, good morning, Cy. Don’t tell me you’ve gone ona diet.”
“Bite your tongue!”
“I take that as a ‘no,’ and I take your phone call tomean you have some urgent business you want me to tend to.”
“That’s the reason I never settle for anyone less thanthe best. Sorry, to bother you, Sam, but I’m in the middle of another murdercase, and I have some people I want you to check out. Are you ready to write?”
“Ready when you are.”
“Okay, see what you can find out about the followingpeople: Miles Mycroft of Missoula, Montana; Isabel Dukenfield of Dubuque, Iowa;Claude Williams of Peoria, Illinois; Tony McArthur from here in town, and AllanHalliday of Goldsboro, North Carolina. All of these people are, were, or weresupposed to be guests at the Overlook Inn out at Precipice Point, where themurders took place. Also, check on Sidney and Estelle Longworth, theproprietors of the inn, and their employees. Start with the guests, and getback to me as soon as possible. Lou and I are at the inn trying to solve thiscase.”
“I’ll get back with you soon as I can with as much asI can. It might be Monday before I can get you a lot of details, but I shouldbe able to find out a little about these people today.”
I hung up and jogged downstairs to Lou. Actually, Ididn’t jog, but lumbered, even though my trek was downhill, and I kept my handon the rail to keep from getting downstairs too fast. I wasn’t anxious to setany records, or for a doctor to reset any of my bones. The only difference inup and down to me is that I wheeze more and I stop and rest more when going up.I am more gifted in the art of reclining or sitting; although some people wouldtake issue that you need talent for those.
I could see that Lou didn’t wait on me. His plate washalf empty, but he hadn’t touched mine. At least I don’t think he had. Itwouldn’t matter anyway. It wasn’t like it was a spread at the Blue Moon.
I told Lou what I had, which wasn’t much. We wouldcheck with Manfred Mitchuson to see if he remembered what kind of car IsabelDukenfield drove. I told Lou I would wait until we had Longworth out of hiscomfort zone before we tackled the question of who occupied the room in theback. We finished our snack with no new inspirations, licked our fingers cleanafter eating chocolate to get the fruit and cheese taste out of our mouths, andsent Lou to get Longworth.
I thought our luck might have changed when Lou returnedwith Longworth in tow. At least the owner wasn’t dead or missing. That wasgood, since I had already dismissed the bevy of bloodhounds.
“Have a seat, Mr. Longworth.”
“What’s this about, Lieutenant? I already answered allyour questions.”
“Well, Mr. Longworth, there’s nothing like a wintergetaway to inspire a policeman to come up with more questions. I don’t havemany questions for you, but I’d like to know who occupied the room on the backhall. You said none of those rooms were in use.”
“Well, uh, one of our guests requested a room awayfrom everyone, and I decided to accommodate him.”
“Oh, and which guest was that, Mr. Longworth?”
“Uh, the deceased.”
“Which deceased, Mr. Longworth? We have so many deadguys I can hardly count them all.”
“Oh, uh, Mr. Mycroft.”
“And what reason did Mr. Mycroft give for wanting to beaway from the other guests?”
“Just that he came to the inn for solitude.”
“But these rooms have such thick walls. Someone’s inthe room next to mine, but I haven’t heard any noises coming from that room.And, as I recall, Mr. Mycroft did take his meals with the other guests. Whythis reason to be off by himself?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did he mention knowing anyone here at the inn?”
“You do know what knowing anyone means, don’t you, Mr.Longworth?”
“Sure, but he never mentioned that he knew anyone.”
“Did you talk to him much?”
“Not too much. I mean I wanted to make him feel welcome,and at the time he checked in he was our only guest.”
“Were any other guests expected when Mr. Mycroftchecked in?”
“Yes, everyone except the two of you, and Miss Humphert.”
“Let’s take a look at when everyone checked in. Mr. Mycroftchecked in at 10:40 Thursday morning. Mr. Plankton checked in at 2:20 Thursdayafternoon. And Mrs. Dukenfield checked in at 4:15 Thursday afternoon. I assumeall of them ate dinner together Thursday evening. Is that correct?”
“And did you and your wife join that group?”
“Was the meal similar to the one we had last evening,with Justin serving?”
“Tell me, Mr. Longworth. What was the conversationlike?”
“My wife and I did most of the talking. Everyone wasnew to the inn. We spent most of the time telling them about all the inn has tooffer and answered any questions any of them had.”
“What questions were those?”
“Oh, the usual. What time the pool and library openedand closed each day. How long before our first play in the auditorium.”
“Yes, Mr. McArthur mentioned that you planned to offerplays to your guests at some point in the near future.”
“Yes, had you talked to him about that? I know he wasn’tpresent at dinner Thursday night, but he seemed to know that you planned toreturn to the days of yesteryear with a full compliment of plays.”
I might have embellished my rendition of McArthur’scomments, but I wanted to see how Longworth responded.
“Well, we do plan to offer plays again, but that willbe a ways down the road.”
“I guess Mr. McArthur was mistaken.”
“Maybe just a little overexcited. A lot of people haveenjoyed plays at the inn. Are you one of them, Lieutenant?”
“No, Mr. Longworth, I’ve never had the pleasure.”
“Well, when we begin I must be sure to leave fourtickets for you and the sergeant. Maybe you would enjoy a Shakespearean comedy,or our rendition of Macbeth.”
I shuddered at the thought. What would be next? Wouldhe offer us complimentary dinners before the performance?
“Mr. Longworth, I’m just a little curious as to whyyou haven’t asked about your murdered and missing guests.”
“I assume that information is confidential,Lieutenant.”
“Oh, one other thing, Mr. Longworth. Why didn’t youtell me that the inn has hidden passageways?”
“Now, Lieutenant, we don’t want our guests roamingthrough those passageways. They might get hurt. And could you imagine whatour insurance payments would be if we allowed that?”
“I understand that, but why didn’t you tell me aboutthem after you found out I was with the police department?”
“It escaped my mind. Besides, I didn’t think any ofour guests would know about them, so I imagined you would have been wastingyour time looking for someone there.”
“And you would’ve assumed wrong. I believe it is possiblethat Mrs. Dukenfield navigated those passageways in order to make her escape.”
Mr. Longworth laughed.
“Mrs. Dukenfield, that old woman. I don’t want to bedisrespectful, but it sounds preposterous.”
“It does to me, too, but there’s no sign of heranywhere on the premises.”
I must have paused too long, for I gave Longworth an opportunityto get something off his chest.
“Lieutenant, one thing I would like to address. Is itnecessary for Miss Humphert to remain in her room?”
“At least until tomorrow. And could you have someonecheck with her periodically to walk her dog?”
“Of course, Lieutenant, but why must she remain in herroom? No one else is confined.”
“For safety reasons, Mr. Longworth.”
I let him think I meant her safety, when I was reallythinking about my own. Maybe safety wasn’t the right word, but I couldn’t tellhim it was for my peace of mind. He didn’t know the woman like I did.
“Well, Mr. Longworth, I think that’ll be all for now.Could you tell me where I can find Mr. Mitchuson?”
“What could you possibly want with him?”
“Now, Mr. Longworth, if I wanted to tell you that, Iwould have invited you to stay while I question him. Now, where did you say Icould find him?”
“Manfred is probably in his quarters.”
“Thank you, Mr. Longworth. I’ll send Sgt. Murdock withyou so you can show him where Mr. Mitchuson’s quarters are.”
A rather displeased innkeeper left, followed by a sergeant.A couple of minutes later, Lou returned with Manfred Mitchuson.
“Hello, Manfred. Have a seat. You don’t mind if I callyou Manfred, do you?”
“That’s my name, Lieutenant. Go ahead.”
“Manfred, did you by any chance shovel the snow fromthe roof on Friday morning.”
“That I did, Lieutenant.”
“Could you tell if anyone had been up there beforeyou?”
“No possibility of that, Lieutenant. Those of us whowork here are the only ones who know how to get to the roof, and no one evergoes up there except me.”
“Did you by any chance look out over the parapet whileyou were up there shoveling?”
“I didn’t have time. I just barely got it finished intime for lunch. Just after that you showed up, and then that woman came. That’swhy I didn’t have the drive shoveled before you got here. It takes so long todo the roof. See not only do I have to shovel all the way around the roof, butI have to lift the shovel and throw the snow over the side. Believe me, after doingthat a few times my muscles get sore.”
“Yes, I can see where they would. Manfred, I understandthat part of your duties at the inn include parking cars and carrying luggageto the rooms. Am I correct?”
“That’s right, Lieutenant. Among other things.”
“Did you by any chance carry Mr. Mycroft’s luggage tohis room when he arrived?”
“I did, Lieutenant.”
“That was on the back hallway, away from the otherguests?”
“Any idea why his room was so far away from the otherguests?”
“The missus told me that it was because he and Mr. Longworthhad some business to discuss.”
“Any idea what business that was?”
“Well, I hope I’m not talking out of turn. I can’tafford to lose my job.”
“No, it’s okay to tell me. It’s really not all that important,and it is just between us. I’m just curious.”
“My missus says Mrs. Longworth told her that Mr. Mycroftwas an actor, and Mr. Longworth was planning on using him when they started featuringplays again.”
“And when is that?”
“Mr. Longworth acted like it would be soon, but withMr. Mycroft’s death, who knows?”
“Any idea if any of the other guests were here forthat reason?”
“Sorry, I can’t help you there.”
“Another question. Did you park Mrs. Dukenfield’s carwhen she arrived?”
“Aye, that I did.”
“And what kind of car does she drive?”
“Actually, you might be surprised to know she drives atruck. I know I was. As a matter of fact, it looks a lot like the truck thatnew fellow drove up in this morning.”
“You mean Mr. Williams?”
“I guess that’s his name. I didn’t get it.”
“Well, I’ll have to check his truck.”
“You’ll have to wait until later. He left a fewminutes ago.”
“Left? Left the inn?”
“Did he check out?”
“I have no idea about that. I just saw him drive awaywhen I looked out the window.”
“And how long ago was this?”
“Twenty or thirty minutes. It wasn’t long after yourman here came down the hall with the boss. I mean I guess it was him. It was adark-colored truck like his or that old lady’s. I couldn’t see who was drivingit.”
I excused Manfred Mitchuson and asked him to send hiswife in. While he was away, I called the department to see if they couldintercept a dark-colored truck coming from the Precipice Point Road. I didn’tneed to give them any more information. There wouldn’t have been more than onetruck coming from the inn.
I hung up just as Mrs. Mitchuson knocked. I asked herthe same questions I asked her husband, plus asked if she saw anything unusualin any of the rooms as she cleaned them. Her answers matched her husband’s andshe saw nothing out of the way.
With nothing going the way I wanted, I needed a break.It was almost lunch time. Lou and I decided to wait in the sitting room untillunch was served. In the meantime, we would pray that the food would beacceptable. I didn’t have time to run in to the Blue Moon to eat, and theydon’t deliver. Well, maybe they would to their two best customers.
Lou and I sat and ate an uneventful lunch with TonyMcArthur. At least he hadn’t disappeared. He looked much less at ease than hedid the night before. Could he have something to hide? Or is it merely that hebecame unnerved when he learned that a murder had been committed?
As we finished lunch, Longworth informed me that I hada phone call. I told him I would take it in the conference room. The call wasfrom Sam.
“Boy, you’re really quick this time Sam. Maybe Ishould bother you more often on the weekend.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t. I don’t have much to report.”
“Then why’d you call me?”
“I’ve got this much, Cy. You might be at a dead end.None of those out-of-town people exist. Oh, I don’t doubt that they’re realpeople, Cy. It’s just that there’s no one matching those names who live in anyof those towns. Well, except for McArthur. He lives here in Hilldale, allright.”
“When I found out all those people were wearing disguises,I suspected as much. I think the real people are a little closer to home, likeMcArthur. I assume you don’t have anything yet on those who work here.”
“Not yet, Cy. You want me to wait until I get everything?”
“You might as well. Thanks, Sam. I’ll talk to you later.”
I hung up, made another call. I wanted to get a fingerprintcrew out here to check Claude Williams’s room for prints. Why did a man checkin, then leave soon thereafter? Had I scared him? I’d told Longworth that allrooms once occupied by the newly deceased and the recently departed were offlimits to anyone, including him, until further notice. He wasn’t pleased, butit wasn’t like he had no vacancies in case a busload of elderly travelersdescended upon the inn after leaving Cracker Barrel on their way to somegambling haven.
While we waited on the fingerprint crew I talked toMcArthur again. I sent the good sergeant to retrieve him.
“Well, Mr. McArthur. So good to see you again. I supposeyou liked your lunch.”
“Not bad. I understand dinner will be even better.We’re having Coquille St. Jacques, and tomorrow night they’re servingchateaubriand.”
Not being a wine drinker, I hoped we were through withthis place before tomorrow night. I wondered if chateaubriand was a cheap orexpensive wine. It sounded like a red wine, but I hoped that I wouldn’t bethere to find out. I planned to ask Betty McElroy when we returned tocivilization. In the meantime, I would get the good sergeant to find out what CoquilleSt. Jacques is. It sounds like Dachshund On a Stick marinated in a white winesauce.
“Lieutenant, I assume you invited me here for somereason other than to ask me about the food. Otherwise, you could have asked meat the table. After all, we were the only ones there.”
“Sorry, Mr. McArthur, your mention of the menu made methink of something. You mentioned in our previous conversation that you camebecause you thought Mr. Longworth would soon be having tryouts for a play.”
“We actors think of them as auditions, and yes, Iheard that he would soon be scheduling plays. I contacted a former actor justbefore I left town and asked him if he would be willing to get the word out. Ieven suggested that it would be fun if some of the guests came in character, inorder to perform for Longworth and see if he’d recognize them. That’s thereason I couldn’t be sure if I knew anyone else at the table last night.”
“Who’s the actor you contacted?”
“Arthur Rothschild. He was one of the finest actors inthis area until his accident.”
“Yes, he fell and broke his leg during a production.There aren’t many parts for actors confined to wheelchairs, so Arthur haspretty much retired.”
“Confined to a wheelchair? Most people I know whobreak a leg recover.”
“Yeah, but Arthur had some complications. He couldn’tget to a doctor to get it set right. Because of that, he has an unbearable painanytime he puts any pressure on it.”
“Did you talk to him later to see if he passed theword on?”
“I didn’t have time. I was busy the whole time I wasin Chicago, and I stopped by my apartment only long enough to get my car. Ididn’t even go in, just jumped out of the taxi and hurried around back to getmy vehicle. I wanted to make sure I got here in time for dinner. Anyway, if youwant to know, just check with Arthur. He lives in the actors’ home, just likethe rest of us.”
“The rest of us?”
“Yeah, Oppenheimer Arms. Joseph Oppenheimer was aphilanthropist who died a few years ago. He outlived his descendants, and hehad always loved the theater, so he gave money to Longworth to reopen the innand bought a large home which was converted into a apartment building for localactors. If someone cannot afford to pay, they live there rent free. I canafford to pay, but some of the guys who haven’t found much work of late cannotafford to do so.”
“And what is the address of this home?”
“462 Linden Place.”
“Tell me, Mr. McArthur. How well do the actors in thisarea get along?”
“For the most part pretty well. Of course, some peopleget a little upset when someone else gets a part that he or she coveted, but itdoesn’t usually last long. Everyone is back to being friends pretty quick.”
“And how many actors live at Oppenheimer Arms?”
“Let’s see, there are seven. There are eightapartments, four on each side of the hall, and I believe that everyone livesalone. Then, we have a manager, Mrs. Crouch, who takes care of the place. Mr.Oppenheimer made Longworth promise that if an actor ever needed a place to stayand there wasn’t a vacancy at Oppenheimer Arms, he or she could stay at the innuntil an apartment was available.”
I dismissed McArthur and sent Lou to retrieve Longworth.
“Mr. Longworth, it seems that you’ve been keeping somethingfrom me.”
“Such as how you acquired this magnificent inn. Itseems Mr. Oppenheimer was most gracious.”
“That he was. Mr. Oppenheimer was a fine gentleman.”
“And why didn’t you tell me about his generositysooner?”
“It had no bearing on anything that has happened herethis weekend.”
“Oh! Maybe it did. And it seems you were a little moreeager to produce and direct your next play than you led me to believe.”
“Not at all, but it will be some time before that happens.”
“Is that because of Mr. Mycroft’s death?”
“And Mr. Plankton’s death?”
“I did not know Mr. Plankton.”
“Could it be that you know Mr. Plankton by anothername?”
“The gentleman did not look familiar to me.”
“Could it be that he was an actor in disguise?”
“You mean someone playing a character? Sure. But Ididn’t recognize him.”
“Are you aware that someone relayed a message to localactors to come to the inn this weekend, and come in costume to audition foryou?”
“Are you serious?”
“Then, no, I didn’t know that. Is that how Tony McArthurcame to be here this weekend?”
“So, you know McArthur to be an actor?”
“Oh, yes. I thought I’d told you that. He’s a distinguishedactor, one of the better ones in this area. But he was not in costume.”
“No, I guess not. Well, thank you for you time, Mr.Longworth. I’ll not keep you from your duties any longer.”
“I appreciate that, Lieutenant.”
Longworth left. It was beginning to look like the murdershad something to do with Longworth and the possibility of upcoming plays at theinn. But I still had no idea who our murderer was.
All that detecting made Lou and me hungry. I took a HersheyAlmond bar from my pocket and laid it on the table. Needing to lighten themoment, I removed a handkerchief from my pocket, took the tooth-marked candybar from its wrapper, and laid it on the handkerchief. I’d mangled the candyenough so that only about one-half of it remained. Trying to be cute, I took abite off the still intact bottom portion of the candy, eliminating its rightangles. Lou proved two can be twice as cute as one. Lou saw no need for anapkin. He poured his package of M&Ms on the table. Then he sorted them,making lines and rows. He looked at me and smiled, then moved one row ofM&Ms at a time, like he was trying to solve a Rubik Cube. I reached overand plucked an M&M from the center of his square. He smacked my hand. Ipicked up an M&M, licked it, and replaced it. He picked up the one Ilicked, put it in his mouth, and then clutched his hand to his throat as if hewere poisoned. While he was gyrating, I chose a red M&M from his pile. Iplaced it in front of me, then flicked it toward the others like I did when Iplayed marbles as a boy. Lou laughed, and selected a yellow M&M as hisagate. He scattered a few, and ate the ones he’d scattered. After a few minutesplay, Lou knocked the last M&M from the ring, and opened a new bag. Whoknows how long our shenanigans would’ve lasted if there hadn’t been a knock atthe door. Lou hurried to gather his M&Ms and poured them back into the bag,while I opened the door slightly. It seemed the lab boys had arrived. Play timewas over. Maybe sometime soon I would lick all the chocolate from my candy, andwe could play marbles with my almonds. Somehow, I envisioned M&Ms beingbetter shooters.
Lou and I accompanied the lab boys to the rooms we wanteddusted. I jotted down the numbers of the rooms, gave them the pass key I hadyet to return, and told them to knock on the door to my room when they’dfinished. All that exercise had made me tired. I needed a nap. I promised LouI’d knock on his door when we had more to work with.
I tried my best to comb my hair quickly after the labboys knocked on my door. Their smiles told me I was not successful. That wasokay. Those guys needed more opportunities to smile. I considered showing themour M&M game before they left, then decided against it.
Gordon, a fellow I’d known for quite a few years,spoke.
“Lieutenant, we matched these prints against ones we alreadyhave. We found duplicates in two of the rooms.”
“And which rooms were those?”
He told me the room numbers, and I checked themagainst my list. The rooms where there were duplicates were Mrs. Dukenfield’sand Mr. Williams’s rooms.
“Are you sure these are the same prints in each ofthese rooms? These two guests were not at the inn at the same time.”
“I’m certain of it, Lieutenant. See how the swirls arean exact match.”
“That sure is interesting.”
“Let me make it a little more interesting for you, Lieutenant.Other than an occasional print left by the maid, we found only one set ofprints in each room.”
I looked up, saw Lou striding toward us.
“Come here, Lou. I’ve got a question. Try to thinkback. When we ate dinner Friday night, was Mrs. Dukenfield wearing gloves?”
“No, Cy. Remember how we talked about playing a gameof connecting the age spots.”
I wished Lou had been a little more discreet aroundthe lab boys. I smiled sheepishly. I saw they smiled for a second time.Probably a record for them. I thought, then asked Gordon a question.
“Are you saying that only one person was in eachroom?”
“Not necessarily. But a person would have to have beenwearing gloves or been extremely careful not to leave any prints. As you know,it’s hard not to leave prints.”
“What about the doorknob on the inside of the roomdoors? Was there only one set on them?”
“Those prints were inconclusive. All we have aresmudged prints. No way to identify them.”
I thanked them for their thoroughness, and told them Ihoped I wouldn’t need them again. After they left, I mulled over what I’dlearned. Was it possible that Isabel Dukenfield and Claude Williams were thesame person? Manfred did say their trucks were similar, and both of them weren’taround at the same time. I decided to run this by Longworth to see what hethought. I found him at the front desk.
“More questions, Lieutenant?”
“Just one, Mr. Longworth, and this won’t take long. Ijust want your expert opinion about something.”
He raised his eyebrows, probably wondering whether Iwas buttering him up or setting him up.
“Mr. Longworth, you’ve been involved with a lot ofplays with a lot of actors. Am I right?”
“That I have, Lieutenant.”
“In all your experience, have you ever known a man toplay a woman, or a woman to play a man?”
“You mean as a farce, or in a serious role?”
“In a serious role. Would a man play a woman, or awoman play a man?”
“It’s rare, but we’ve had cases where that has happened,only most of the time it was played for laughs.”
“But it could be done?”
“Sure, Lieutenant, if the actor or actress was giftedenough to pull it off. May I know why you ask?”
“I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Our fingerprintcrew just left. They said they found a matching set of prints in Mrs.Dukenfield’s and Mr. Williams’s rooms.”
“Well, the maid was in both rooms. Maybe they were herprints.”
“No, we allowed for her prints, and there was only oneset of fingerprints other than hers in both rooms. It’s rare that a person canstay in a room and not leave any prints. Even if Mr. Williams was here for onlya short while.”
“A short while. Has he left?”
“He was seen leaving while you and I were having aprevious conversation. I don’t know if he checked out, or not. Whoever was onthe desk could probably tell us.”
Longworth scanned the register.
“There’s nothing here that says he checked out. I’lllook into it.”
Lou and I turned away and went to my room to think itover. My room was more comfortable than the conference room. I took the bed.The sergeant took the couch. I tossed him a pillow. He tossed it back. Thecouch cushions were good enough for him.
Of course, Isabel Dukenfield and Claude Williamslooked nothing alike. That goes without saying. One a woman. One a man. Even inthe face, there was no resemblance. From what I could remember, even their eyeswere different colors. But with tinted contact lenses and all that makeup menare able to do these days, I didn’t discount the fact that they could’ve beenthe same person. The woman did seem shorter, but was that merely our mindsplaying tricks on us, because everyone knows that women are usually shorterthan men. Both seemed to have the same build. Of course, men and women areshaped differently, but with Mrs. Dukenfield’s bulky wool suit, it was hard forme to know what kind of shape she had. Did he or she wear this outfit for thatreason? If the two were played by one person, could it be that the reason thatthe Mrs. Dukenfield character left was to change costumes?
As I thought, I remembered that both were scheduled tobe at the inn at the same time, but was that something that someone disguisedmerely to throw someone else off? And if so, was that someone Longworth or me?Could it be that the costume changes were merely to gain points with Longworth?Could it be that this person was unaware that murders would take place at theinn? If so, why did our “new” guest hightail it out of here as soon as Iquestioned him? After both of us reflected for a few minutes, I turned to Lou.
“Okay, Lou, what do you make of all this?”
“You mean is the new guy a new guy?”
“Right, Lou. Are we looking for two different people,and if not, is our busy actor friend a victim of circumstances or a murderer?”
“You’d think he or she wouldn’t have left unless ouractor friend is the murderer. But then there’s something else to look at, too.”
“What’s that, Lou?”
“What if this person is really innocent? What if whatthe second guy told us is true? Maybe he is some guy who was late gettinghere.”
“Thanks a lot, Lou. I can always thank you for makingmy job harder.”
“Well, you asked.”
“There’s one thing we know, Lou.”
“What’s that, Cy?”
“Whoever is claiming to be Claude Williams is a liar.There is no Claude Williams. At least not in Peoria, Illinois.”
“Well, he could have an unlisted phone number, orlived with a family member. Besides, that doesn’t make this guy our murderer,Cy. Remember, the victim claimed to be someone else, too. Among the guests,only Tony McArthur seems to have told the truth.”
“That’s settles it, Lou. McArthur is our murderer.”
The two of us enjoyed a good laugh before continuing.
“Cy, here’s something to think about. Maybe McArthuris the murderer. Maybe he sent all these people out with fake names to muddythe waters. Then, he shows up looking like himself and is who he says he is.Everyone knows a murderer should tell the truth as much as possible.”
“I’m still bummed out because we don’t know how manypeople we’re dealing with. Are Isabel Dukenfield and Claude Williams the sameperson, or two people?”
“Well, the fingerprints seem to say one person, exceptfor one thing. That Williams fellow wasn’t here all that long. It could bepossible that he didn’t touch anything in the room except the inside of thedoorknob.”
“But you’re forgetting one thing, Lou.”
“What’s that, Cy?”
“I’ll grant you that he might not have been here longenough to leave fingerprints, but one person did leave fingerprints in bothrooms. So, no matter what, one person, whoever that person was, was in bothrooms.”
“Maybe neither of them left any prints and they wereleft by a third person.”
“A woman who spends two days in a hotel room willleave some fingerprints. Those prints belong to whoever Isabel Dukenfieldreally is. What we need to figure out is whether we have one or two actors. Wasa woman in both rooms while a man didn’t stay long enough to leave any prints,or did the same person play both parts? I would go ask McArthur, but if heknows, he isn’t talking.”
After wasting most of the afternoon and getting nowhere,I realized it was time for afternoon snacks, or hors d’oeuvres, as the innprefers to call them. I sent Lou to walk down enough steps so that he couldcrane his neck around the balustrade to see if they were serving pâté again. Ifso, I was on a chocolate diet. He came back and said he couldn’t tell what itwas, but it wasn’t pâté. I decided to be brave, locked the door, and followedthe big lemming down the stairs.
Reluctantly, I took a bite of something that lookedlike chitlins, or chitterlings, as they probably called them at the OverlookInn. I never thought of them as a delicacy, but I couldn’t figure out what elseit could be that I was munching on. Whatever they were, I wasn’t sure I wantedto eat them again, but I was hungry. The inn provided a dipping sauce, whichwasn’t bad. I thought about dipping the chitlin, or should I say chitterling,in the dipping sauce, licking the sauce off, and then dipping again. I wasconsidering it when Mrs. Longworth walked up.
”Well, Lieutenant, Sergeant, how do you like the calamari?”
So, it wasn’t chitlins. Now, all I had to do was findsomeone who knew what calamari was.
I smiled at Mrs. Longworth, and told her the truth.
“Without a doubt, this is the best calamari I’ve everhad.”
“Oh, that’s so good to hear. We love for our guests toenjoy their food while they’re here.”
I wasn’t going to lie and tell her I enjoyed the food,so I took another calamari and dipped it in the sauce. I plopped it into mymouth before she could ask me any more questions. As I chewed, she walked away.
Before I finished swallowing, her husband walked up. Ihoped he wasn’t going to ask me how I was enjoying the calamari. He didn’t.
“Lieutenant, I’ve been thinking, and I might have a solutionto one of your problems.”
I wasn’t prepared for what he said next.
“You know you were wondering whether Isabel Dukenfieldand Claude Williams are the same person. I might have an answer to thatquestion.”
“Oh?” was all that I could mutter.
“I know, Lieutenant, that you mentioned you do nothave much occasion to frequent plays, but are you familiar with an earlycomedian by the name of W. C. Fields?”
“Oh, sure. I’ve even seen some of his movies.”
I could tell the man was pleased to see I had some culture.
“Do you have any idea what Mr. Fields real name was?”
I could see he planned to milk this for all that itwas worth, so I humored him and said, “No.”
“William Claude Dukenfield. Understand? W. C. Fieldswas an actor. Our guest, who’s probably an actor, joined us twice, once asIsabel Dukenfield, and once as Claude Williams. Quite perceptive of him. Orher. But since W. C. Fields was a man, I assume that our actor friend is a man.As to who that man is, I will leave that up to you. I have no idea. And thatbothers me, that a guest at the inn could fool me like that. Whoever he is, ifhe’s not your murderer, I might have some parts for him, when we startrehearsals.”
“I appreciate the help, Mr. Longworth. If you decideto get out of the inn and play business, we might have a job for you at the department.”
I was glad that Longworth had helped us. While Iprobably would’ve figured out sooner or later that we were dealing with onlyone person, instead of two, I didn’t have enough knowledge of W. C. Fields tomake that connection. Was the W. C. Fields ruse for my benefit, or Longworth’s?The actor’s cat-and-mouse attitude fit in with the person who left footprintsand a note for me, and this must’ve been the same person who made the tracksthrough the snow and over the edge of the cliff, but I would never have madethe W. C. Fields connection. Could it be that our actor friend wanted to putone over on Longworth and the police at the same time?
Lou and I sprawled out in a couple of the chairs inthe sitting room and let our dinner settle. No one else was around, so we couldsprawl to our heart’s content.
I looked out the window. There was a moon, and thesnow glistened in the moonlight. In my younger days, I would’ve liked to have been out there in it. In my middle-age years, I knew better. I lovedsnow, as long as it was out there and I was in here. From what I could tell,the temperature had not risen enough for the snow to melt. Of course, peoplehave always said that Precipice Point is the coldest place in the county. Aslong as I was at Precipice Point, I would agree with them.
I sat and watched as a rabbit scampered across thesnow. Stupid rabbit should’ve been hibernating. I would’ve been, if I hadn’thad work to do. I tried to push the thought of work from my mind, so I couldenjoy the view. If the food improved, I could get used to this place. Iwouldn’t mind a dip in the pool, as long as there wasn’t anyone else around tocheck out my circumference. It would be okay if Lou were there. His circumferenceresembles mine. Few others I know of are so blessed. Lou moved closer, so hecould enjoy the view, but not close enough to touch. We weren’t that kind ofcouple.
“Remember, Cy, when we used to make snowballs and hideuntil one of the girls came by.”
“Yeah, those were the days, Lou.”
“Remember that McElfresh girl?”
“Sadie? Yeah, she was my kind of girl. Remember thetime she sneaked around the house and let us have it?”
“Boy, do I. I turned around just in time to get a snowballright in the kisser. Wonder whatever happened to her? You know, she’s the onlygirl we ever let set foot in our tree house.”
Our trip down Memory Lane was interrupted by a phonecall.
“There’s a call for you, Lieutenant. A Mr. Harris.Says it’s urgent.”
“I’ll take it in my room.”
I grabbed hold of the railing and lumbered up thesteps, eager to hear what news Frank had for us. Had he finished the autopsies?I unlocked the door, Lou right behind me. I dashed over to the phone and pickedit up.
“I’ve got it!” I hollered into the phone, in case Longworthwas still on the line.
“I hope I don’t catch it from you,” Frank replied.
“Oh, it’s only you. I thought it was somebody.”
“That’s okay, Cy. If you don’t want to know theresults of the autopsies that’s okay with me. Here I come in and slave on myday off, but what do you care? I could’ve stayed home with my family and leftthese two in cold storage until Monday.”
I’d let Frank go on long enough.
“Okay, Frank. I still love you. You’re still myfavorite medical examiner. Well, except for that cute little number over inRidgeville.”
“I’ll tell Loraine that you said that.”
“That she’s cuter than you are. You betcha! I’m sureof that any day of the week.”
“Should I go on before I get an inferiority complex?”
“Out with it, Frank.”
“Well, I’ve finished the autopsies, but I haven’t beenable to identify the bodies yet.”
“Can you have somebody run some pictures of them outto the inn? I’ve got a feeling there are a couple of people here who might beable to identify them.”
“Is tomorrow morning okay?”
“Can you make it early?”
“When was the last time you ever did early, Cy?”
“Well, if I can wrap things up here, Lou and I mightbe able to make it to church in the morning.”
“Well, what I’m about to tell you might let you dojust that. Cy, do you know when these two guys checked into the inn?”
“One of them checked in Thursday morning, the otherThursday afternoon.”
“Well, first let me tell you that both men died of poisoning.I won’t burden you with what kind. I’ll just tell you what you need to know.Neither man was poisoned at the inn. If my findings are right, and I’d bet onthem, I’d say both men ingested the poison on Wednesday, sometime between noonand midnight.”
“Wednesday. P.M. As in before they went to the inn.Wednesday. As in before the snowstorm, whatever that’s worth. That doesn’t meanthat somebody at the inn didn’t poison them. It just means that they didn’tpoison them at the inn.”
“It means something else, too, Frank.”
“What’s that, Cy?”
“It means our puny suspect list has expanded. Maybe awhole lot.”
I cornered Lou on the way down the stairs and askedhim our message for the day. It was “I’d rather be in Philadelphia.” I wasconfused. No one in his right mind would rather be in Philadelphia. Could it bethat something happened in Philadelphia that might have some bearing on theoutcome of our case? I didn’t think so. Is it possible that someone connectedwith this case comes from Philadelphia? We’d reached the bottom of the stepswithout any light going on inside my head, but then seldom do Lou’s clues makeany sense at the time he shares them with me. I put it aside for the time beingand prayed for a delicious breakfast. My prayers were answered.
I’d just finished the second helping and had gatheredenough strength to push myself from the table when the front door opened and anofficer arrived with pictures of the deceased. I huddled with Lou in thecorner, and slid the photos from the large envelope. I held the two picturesside-by-side. I honestly couldn’t tell which gentleman played which part. Neitherlooked at all like the two people I’d encountered. I could tell Lou wasbaffled, as well.
I collared Longworth, asked him for a moment of histime. Still suspicious of any move I made, but feeling better since I hadn’tsummoned him to the conference room, he stepped over to where we could havesome privacy.
“Mr. Longworth, I wonder if you can identify the gentlemenin these two photos.”
I placed the photos side by side, just as I had whenLou and I had looked at them.
“This gentleman,” Longworth said, pointing at the pictureon the left, “is Carter Thornton. The other one is Matthew Simon. Both haveperformed in my plays on many occasions. I assume these are the two men whodied at the inn.”
“And what gave you that idea?”
“Maybe because they are both lying on a slab withtheir eyes closed.”
“Do you know anyone who might have had anythingagainst either of these men?”
“Not even a jealous actor somewhere along the way?”
“Lieutenant, I am not going to insult your intelligenceby intimating that one actor has never been jealous of another, or that oneactor has never murdered another actor. But I do not know of anyone who mighthave had anything against either of these fine gentlemen. Carter was aconsummate actor. As fine of an actor as I have directed. I worked with MatthewSimon on many occasions, as well. I would not have continued to have workedwith him if I was not pleased with his work. This is definitely a setback tothe local theater industry. Both men will be extremely hard to replace.”
I thanked Longworth and told him that our work at theinn was finished for the time being. He smiled when I told him our work wasfinished, but his smiled faded when I added “for the time being.” I asked himfor one favor.
“Mr. Longworth, I am sure Miss Humphert has enjoyedher stay at the inn and is reluctant to leave before morning. Would you pleaseserve her lunch in her room, but offer her the pleasure of joining you at yourtable this evening. It would mean so much to all of us if you would grant usthis final wish.”
I could tell that Longworth had no idea why I askedfor this, but I assumed he was willing to do anything if he could get thepolice away from the inn.
Lou and I packed and allowed Manfred to carry our luggagedownstairs. He asked if he could get our car for us, but I declined. I hurriedto the garage. I wanted to make one final loop of the driveway before leavingthe inn behind. Even a magnificent structure like the Overlook Inn looks goodin the rearview mirror. I made the three-quarters loop from the garage to thefront steps of the inn. Manfred watched for me, and he opened the door for Louwhen I stopped in front. We allowed Manfred to load our luggage into Lightningand tipped him generously. I looked at my watch as I drove away. If we hurried,we had just enough time to grab a couple of doughnuts before the morningservice.
I drove into the crowded parking lot at church, refrainedfrom parking in a space marked “handicapped,” “visitors,” or “seniors.” MostSunday mornings Lou and I are early enough to savor the delectable doughnutsand still make it to the back pew of the church before the choice seats aretaken. This time, we scarfed down two doughnuts each, hurried to the restroomto wash our fingers after licking them, and hustled into the sanctuary, only tofind that the best available seats were two seats in the middle of the thirdrow from the back. Instead, we opted for two seats on the aisle eight rowscloser to the front. Our pastor, who has quite a sense of humor, noticed our dilemma.He approached us just as the music began and stuck out his hand.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t believe I know you. Are youvisiting by any chance.”
I stuck my tongue out at him and he chuckled all theway to the pulpit. I looked around and saw that several people were enjoyingour predicament. I took notice of who they were and made a mental note to sharetheir names with those in the traffic division.
As usual, the music lifted my spirit and put me in amood to worship. The pastor spoke directly to me, as he always does, and no onerushed from the church after the service in order to beat the rush to the localrestaurants or hurry home to check on the roast.
Lou and I lingered, exchanged small talk with some ofthe rest of the congregation, and then left the church, thankful that we didn’thave to hightail it back to the inn. We were glad to be back on our home turf.
When Lou and I desire companionship from the oppositesex, we double date. I will forever be in love with Eunice and Betty McElroywith her deceased husband Hugh, but Betty and I enjoy a meal together at leastonce a month, and sometimes more often. We enjoy each other’s company. Betty isalso there if I need a woman’s opinion, and I am there for her anytime sheneeds something repaired. I know enough repairmen that I can recommend a goodone.
Betty and Hugh were fortunate to have been married alot longer than Eunice and I. They had two children, now grown, who live out ofstate. While Betty’s children seldom come to Hilldale to visit, she visits eachof them on occasion, and has opportunities to play with grandchildren,something that I can do only in my dreams.
While Betty and I are merely friends, Lou and ThelmaLou Spencer have more of a relationship. Sometimes I think the only two thingsthat keep them from tying the knot is that both of them have lived bythemselves since entering adulthood and always can do what they want as asingle, and that Lou worries about my having to eat by myself if he getsmarried.
While Betty no longer works, Thelma Lou leaves thehouse each day for her job as a customer service representative for thetelephone company. While many people across the country who need assistancetalk to a telephone company representative in a distant state or country, thoseof us who live in Hilldale are fortunate enough to have someone nearby.
On the drive back from the inn, Lou and I decided thatwe needed a day to step away from the case, in order to see it better the nextday. We made plans to go out to eat, go home for a much-needed nap, then see ifthe girls would want to go out and eat.
I dropped Lou off at his apartment, then drove to myplace, ecstatic that I didn’t need to sneak past my next-door neighbor to entermy house. As I drove up the driveway I saw what was left of the footprints myvisitor made on Friday morning, a time that seemed so long ago. The wind hadwiped them away, but the snow hadn’t left Hilldale behind. Only the streetswere clear of snow. Our yards would be covered for a few more days. I lookedaround and could tell that a few of my neighbors hadn’t left their homes sincethe snow fell. While all walks were shoveled, some cars were snowbound due tosnowdrifts in the driveways.
I strolled into the house, wanting to take my phoneoff the hook, but knowing that my profession kept me from doing so. It didn’tmatter. Only an emergency call would interrupt my Sunday afternoon nap. Butbefore I did so, I had a phone call to make. Thelma Lou was always eager to goout with Lou, so before he got out of the car I told him I would call BettyMcElroy to see if she’d want to make it a foursome for dinner. She said “yes,”so I called Lou, who confirmed dinner with Thelma Lou. We agreed to pick thegirls up at 7:00.
I went to my bed, lay down, and fell quickly to sleep.Some time later, I woke up, a little disoriented at first, and then rememberedthe strange surroundings in which I found myself. Home. That place that I hadleft behind oh so long ago. I turned over and looked at the clock. Even thoughit was winter, it was still light enough that I could see the hands and makeout the time. 4:18. Plenty of time before Lou and I had to pick up the girls.
My stomach growled right on cue. I rousted myself fromthe bed, staggered to the kitchen, and rummaged through the refrigerator. Nocoquille St. Jacques. Not even anypâtéde foie gras. I would’ve let out a big “Yes!” but there wasn’t much of anythingelse to eat, either. I looked in the freezer, found a package of pizza rolls,and preheated the oven. Several stomach growls later, I plucked them from theoven, put them on a plate to let them cool, fixed myself something to drink,and enjoyed my snack. After I’d scraped the last of the cheese and sauce fromthe plate, I burped, and strolled over to the TV.
As I mentioned earlier, Lou and I have hobbies. A policemanneeds something to get his mind off his work. While Lou and I haveapproximately the same shape, we do not share the same interests outside ofwork, other than our newfound love for reading murder mysteries. I didn’t wantto begin reading a new mystery. I would have to put it away in the morning. Icouldn’t justify reading a book when there was a real murder left to solve.Besides, with both of us ensconced in semi-retirement, there would be plenty oftime to read.
Lou has three hobbies. He recently traded the classicnovels, he didn’t always enjoy for murder mysteries that tickled his palette.Plus, he works crossword and jigsaw puzzles. Both types of puzzles wouldshatter what little patience I have, but they relax Lou. He spends most of histime in one room, the living room. The first thing you see when you step insidehis apartment are walls of bookshelves, each shelf full of books. The nextthing you notice is a card table that is always up, always with a puzzle inprogress. If Lou isn’t sitting at the card table, he is relaxing in hisrecliner, working on a crossword puzzle or devouring another murder mysterynovel.
While Lou likes to read and work puzzles, I like todelve into my DVD collection and watch some of the best comedies of the classicTV days. No one has ever been funnier than Lucille Ball. WatchingI LoveLucycan bring me out of a grumpy mood. Other favorite shows of mine areHogan’sHeroes, The Andy Griffith Show,andThe Beverly Hillbillies.Iselected a DVD of the first yearI Love Lucywas on the air, plucked itfrom its case, inserted it into the DVD player, sat back, and drifted back intime. Time passed quickly. Then next thing I knew the phone rang. I paused theDVD and walked over to the phone. It was Lou. He was on his way.
Lou doesn’t like to drive. When we work, I alwaysdrive, unless an injury keeps me from driving. But when we double-date, Loualways backs his nearly-mint-condition red-and-white, 1957 Chevy from thegarage, turns the radio to an oldies station, and thinks he’s hot stuff. Thegirls like his car, too. Not that they have anything against Lightning. What’snot to like about Lightning? But there’s just something special about a vintageautomobile.
We had a pleasant evening. It was nice to spend timewith someone without interrogating her and wondering if she had anything to dowith our murder investigation. The four of us had a wonderful dinner, but thenit came time to take the girls home, because Monday would be a busy day for us.The girls understood. Being single, they’re both just glad to get out of thekitchen and mingle with other people from time to time, even if those other people are Lou and me. They don’t even mind us calling them “the girls.”Besides, they call us “the boys.”
As soon as Lou returned from walking Thelma Lou to thedoor, our minds switched back to work mode. It was time to forget about what arelief it was to get back home and all the fun we had at dinner and focus onthe case. We reflected back upon the last few days. Lou’s message from God.“Ford Theater and the Bates Motel.” Actors and murder. It was time to lookahead. It seemed obvious to me what we needed to do on Monday morning.Everything pointed to Oppenheimer Arms. Both of the deceased lived there. Wedidn’t know if they were poisoned there, but it was time to pay the place avisit, to meet its residents. Who knows? Maybe we were about to come face to facewith a murderer for the first time. Or see what a murderer looks like when hewasn’t performing for the police, or executing a murder in disguise. Was ourmurderer someone who lives at the apartment complex? Or someone we had leftbehind at the inn? Only time would tell.
I woke up Monday morning and smiled. I don’t usuallysmile the first thing in the morning. If I had my way, I’d sleep until thecrack of noon, take time to find out what God had for me that day, take aleisurely shower, then pick Lou up and drive to the Blue Moon for breakfastandlunch, at one seating. Okay, maybe I’d get up a little earlier in order to puta little time between breakfast and lunch. On that day, it didn’t matter.Someone was at work decreasing the town’s population, it was time to roustmyself from the bed and go to work. After that, I took time for cleanliness,God and godliness, and hunger pangs. After all, just because I can’t sleepuntil noon doesn’t mean the people at Oppenheimer Arms don’t.
Lou and I strolled into the Blue Moon. Rosie looked upas the bell jingled as we walked in. From the look on her face, I thought shewas going to run around the counter and hug us. Instead, she made us feelwelcome another way.
“Where have you two been? We were about to put out amissing persons report. Do you realize how much food we had left over Fridayand Saturday? With the money the boss lost, he almost had to declarebankruptcy.”
Lou and I chuckled all the way to the counter. In sequence,we grasped the counter and pulled our grandiose bodies up onto the stools. It was so good to be back where we belonged that the two of us spun around onour stools while Rosie just stood and laughed at us. Because of our girth, Louand I always sit with one stool between us. It isn’t like the Blue Moon iscrowded. We can spread out and eat comfortably. And if the mood hits us to spinour stools around like a couple of five-year-olds, we can do so without bumpingknees. Somehow, I don’t believe the department would file knees injured whilespinning on a restaurant stool under “injured in the line of duty.”
Hungry, Lou and I gave Rosie our orders, then told herabout our trip to Purgatory. She listened with a constant grin upon her face.
“I already knew some of it. Thelma told me some otherpoliceman came in the other night and picked up some food for you because youwere dying of malnutrition.”
“Rosie, my love, I’ll tell you all about the stuffthat place fed us as long as you promise never to serve any of it here.”
I milked it for all that it was worth. I wanted totell her about our trek through a blinding snowstorm, uphill all the way, evenafter our shoes had rotted from our feet, and frostbite had set in, but I hadto refrain from revealing anything about the case. Neither could I tell her thefood was so bad that two people died of poisoning. Okay, maybe the food didn’thave anything to do with the poisoning, but a good story is made better if thestoryteller has an ability to embellish.
All stories ended when our food arrived. Bacon, sausage,eggs cooked right, pancakes, biscuits, gravy that looked like gravy, and hashbrowns. All the good food groups. Well, everything except chocolate. Everythingtasted so good that when Rosie told us the first pecan pie of the day had justbeen taken from the oven, we decided to celebrate some more. No one else tastedpecan pie that day until the second pie had been baked. Just as the first ofthe lunch crowd entered the Blue Moon, Lou and I took leave of our senses, andthe Blue Moon. There was work to be done. There were people to see. There werequestions to ask.
I drove to Oppenheimer Arms with my Blue Moon facestill on, but replaced it with my Lieutenant’s face a block before we arrivedat our destination. Lou and I knew the routine. We’d done this for many years.
I pulled up in front of the apartment building,removed my seatbelt, gave my food one last chance to settle, opened the door,and hoisted myself from Lightning.
Oppenheimer Arms spread out over a large lot. A very largelot. When there are eight apartments on the same floor, they need to spread outsomewhere. Lou opened the building’s front door, and we stepped inside. I waspleased to see that there were no steps. Everything was at ground level. Ilooked around and spotted the mailboxes. A sign above them showed us that themanager lived in apartment number one. I perused the names on the mailboxes.Most were unfamiliar. The resident of apartment number one was L. Crouch. Sincewe wanted to talk to the manager first, we decided to take the apartments inorder, one through eight.
I knocked on the door of apartment one. A woman openedthe door. She was short, had curly gray hair, and carried a few extra pounds.
“May I help you?”
I took out my credentials, showed them to her.
“I’m Lt. Dekker with the Hilldale Police Department.This is my associate Sgt. Murdock. We have a few questions to ask you.”
“Have I done something wrong, Lieutenant?”
“If so, I don’t know about it, yet. You are MissCrouch, the manager?”
“That’s right, only it’s Mrs. Crouch. I’m a widow.”
“Well, Mrs. Crouch, we just have a few questions we’dlike to ask you. Privately. Do you mind if we come in?”
Mrs. Crouch opened the door, invited us in.
“Would you gentlemen like some coffee. I just madesome.”
“No, thank you, but go ahead and get yourself a cup.”
She offered us seats while she went to the kitchen topour herself a cup of coffee. She came back, and as she sat down, she said,“Now, gentlemen, what can I do for you?”
“We are investigating an incident that concerns some actors.I understand that all of your residents are actors. I was wondering what youcan tell me about them, and oh, by the way, are you yourself an actress?”
“No, Lieutenant, I’m not an actress. I have been managerof Oppenheimer Arms since it opened back in 1998. I answered an ad, came for aninterview, and was offered the job. I’ve been here ever since and I love myjob, what there is to it. I hate to sound brash, but I can’t see any of ourgentlemen running afoul of the law.”
“Well, maybe they haven’t. You said gentlemen. Are allyour tenants men?”
“While that has not always been the case, it is currently.The last of our ladies got married early last year and moved away. We offer ourapartments to any deserving actor, and as it turned out, after our lady tenantgot married, the next person to inquire about the availability of an apartmentwas a gentleman. We checked him out. He met the qualifications to be a tenanthere, so I rented the apartment to him.”
“And what are the qualifications to be a tenant at OppenheimerArms?”
“Very simple. A person must be a legitimate actor or actresswith fine character. We check out both aspects of a prospective tenant’s lifebefore agreeing to rent the apartment. We also check into their financial background,but that has no bearing on whether or not we rent to them. That is merely tosee if said actor needs financial considerations.”
“Let’s look at your current tenants, beginning withapartment two. Tell me a little about each resident, and to the best of yourability, tell me what each one’s schedule has been the past week.”
Mrs. Crouch took the next ten minutes or so telling mea little about each of the tenants. Four of the tenants had been away over theweekend. That left three tenants at home, but one of them is confined to awheelchair and a second one’s sister was visiting him all of last week. If thatturned out to be true, that meant the actor who played two parts over the week-end lived in apartment three or apartment eight. I’d talk to both men and seeif I could spot our busy actor friend.
“Mrs. Crouch, I’d also like to know everyone’s whereaboutson Wednesday afternoon.”
“I’m sorry I can’t help you there, Lieutenant. I met afriend for lunch and we went to a movie afterward. I left home about 11:00 anddidn’t return until 5:30.”
“And as far as you know, everyone else was here Wednesdayafternoon?”
“Not everyone. A taxi picked Mr. McArthur up just beforeI left. I didn’t see him again until this morning. Mr. McArthur just returnedfrom a trip out of town. He was auditioning for a play. I was surprised he wasgone so long, because when I talked to him on Tuesday he told me he would beback on Friday. Maybe the auditions took longer than he thought.”
I didn’t tell Mrs. Crouch any different. Either shewasn’t home on Wednesday, or she was giving herself an alibi. But if she wasn’thome, someone had ample opportunity to roam the halls and dispense the poison,even if that someone came from outside the building. Of course, we still didn’tknow if the murderer poisoned his or her victims inside that apartmentbuilding. They could’ve received the kiss of death in front of the policedepartment for all we knew. Frank arrived at the time of death, but, for once,the poison could’ve been administered anywhere. Anywhere close enough to allowthem to check in at the Overlook Inn on Thursday. Too bad we didn’t know wherethey were all of Wednesday. Both men could’ve followed Mrs. Crouch out thedoor.
After learning the name of the friend she spent timewith on Wednesday, finding out where they ate and what movie they saw, Lou andI thanked her for her time and left to talk to the occupant of apartment two.
I knocked on the second door and received a “Come in.”I opened the door, and spotted a man reclining on the couch, a wheelchair byhis side. He didn’t seem surprised that his guests were strangers, but merelysaid, “Come on in. I don’t believe we’ve met before.”
“No, I don’t think so. I’m Lt. Dekker with theHilldale Police Department, and this is Sgt. Murdock. We’re here to ask you afew questions.”
Nothing about my declaration seemed to alarm the man.He merely introduced himself.
“In case you don’t already know, I’m Arthur Rothschild.Forgive me for not getting up. Just grab a couple of kitchen chairs and bringthem over.”
Unlike Mrs. Crouch’s residence, Mr. Rothschild’s apartmentwas all one big room, except for the bathroom. The kitchen stood on the left,inside the front door. On back, actually facing the street, was the livingroom. A bed stood behind the couch. There were two doors other than the one weentered. I figured one was the bathroom, the other a closet. Lou and I pickedup a couple of chairs and put them down in front of the couch. I smiled todisarm Mr. Rothschild. He smiled back.
“So, what brings you gentlemen by to see me today? Collectingfor the policemen’s auxiliary fund?”
“No, merely trying to locate an actor who spent theweekend at Overlook Inn.”
“Well, you’ve come to the right place. This buildingis full of actors. Did anyone see the person you’re looking for?”
“So, you know who he is, just don’t know his name.”
“No, he came in disguise, even changed disguises duringthe weekend. Know anyone here who’s that gifted?”
“I’d say anyone here could meet those qualifications.It looks like you’ve only eliminated myself and Mrs. Crouch.”
“You’re not gifted?”
“Oh, I’m gifted all right. At least I was, but Iassume the actor you saw is capable of walking.”
“He walked okay when I saw him.”
“Well, that let’s me out. I’m not walking much thesedays.”
“Tell me, Mr. Rothschild. How did you come to be a cripple?”
He cringed at my mention of the word “cripple,” but answeredmy question.
“It’s funny you’re here looking for someone who spentthe weekend at Overlook Inn. It was at the Overlook Inn where I broke my leg.Winter of ’97. I fell off the stage into the orchestra pit, rehearsing for anupcoming play. Broke my leg in two places. If I could have gotten to thehospital, they could have set it correctly, but it just so happened that ablizzard had hit Hilldale the day before. I contacted the police, but they saidthere was no way to get through. The road was blocked to any type of traffic,and there was no way a helicopter could land in that wind, or on that small ofa piece of property, with all those trees around. Longworth did the best hecould trying to set it, but he had no medical experience, and he set itincorrectly. The result was that anytime I tried to walk the pain was so excruciatingthat I fell immediately to the floor. By the time the roads cleared and theycould get me to a doctor, there was nothing he could do. Maybe if I lived in alarge city or had money to go to a big city hospital, they could have helped me, but that didn’t happen. And so today, I stay home most of thetime, and roll around the apartment.”
“Didn’t this make you bitter?”
“You bet it did. I had no place to go. No way to paymy bills. There weren’t enough parts for actors in wheelchairs. I stayed bitterall the time. If it wasn’t for Mr. Oppenheimer opening this place, I don’t knowwhat I would have done. That man saved my life, but now I’ve gotten used tostaying at home, and actually enjoy it. But I don’t know what I would have doneif it wasn’t for Mr. Oppenheimer. I probably would have ended up a homelesscripple. I doubt if I would still be alive today.”
“Mr. Rothschild, are you aware that the Overlook Innwill offer plays again soon?”
“I wasn’t until the other day. Tony McArthur stoppedby early Wednesday morning. He’d just found out. He came up with an idea foractors to book rooms for this past weekend at the inn, and to show up incostume and see if Longworth recognized anyone. He was on his way out of townto try out for a new play and asked me if I would check with some of the actorsin the building to see if anyone was interested.”
“And did you?”
“Well, yes, but I didn’t get very far. I knocked on Martin Mulroney’s door, the guy who lives directly across from me, but hewasn’t home. I rolled back to my apartment to get something to write on, andleft Mulroney a note. I was about to go to the next apartment, when the pain inmy leg flared up. I came back to my apartment and took something for the pain.As is many times the case, it knocked me out. I didn’t wake up until the phonewoke me. It was Mulroney. I told him that it looked like Longworth would soonbe back in business, and about what McArthur suggested. He seemed excited aboutthe idea. Then, I asked him if he would mind telling the other residents aboutMcArthur’s idea. He said he would be delighted to.”
“Mr. Rothschild, please give me a rundown of youracting career, and any of the building’s other tenants, if you can.”
“Well, I caught the acting bug when I was in college.They were putting on the playOur Town, by Thornton Wilder, and Isecured a part. A small part, but that allowed me to ease into acting.Otherwise, I might have succumbed to the pressure of learning all those lines.But, it was enough. The acting bug bit me. I continued to act all the waythrough college, snaring bigger roles as I grew in my craft, until I finallychanged my major to Theater Arts. When I graduated, I went to New York atfirst, but the city was much too large for me. I stayed long enough to gain alittle experience, then moved on. Over time, I hooked up with Longworth andended up in Hilldale.”
“What about the building’s other residents? Were theirstarts much the same as yours?”
“Over time you forget what people tell you about theirbeginnings, except for the ones who began with you. Once I came to Hilldale, Inever again saw anyone from college or the New York theater scene. I would say,however, that most of the actors I know began their careers in high school orcollege. A few might have begun later.”
“Have you acted in any plays with any of the otherpeople in this building?”
“Oh, my yes. Many times.”
“And does everyone get along?”
“Well, there are spats from time to time, but I wouldhave to say that most of us get along as well as most people get along with thepeople they work with. I had no complaints.”
“Mr. Rothschild, let’s get back to Wednesday afternoon.Have you seen any of your neighbors since then?”
“I haven’t been out of my apartment since, except togo to my mailbox out in the hall. I didn’t see anyone then.”
I’d promised myself I’d check each resident’s boots,and threaten them with having someone return to take their fingerprints. I hadindelibly committed to my brain the boot imprints left in my driveway, and afingerprint expert could match the prints left in the two rooms in Overlook Innto the actor who left them. I didn’t expect that Arthur Rothschild was eitherman, but I wanted to practice my lines anyway and see how he reacted.
“Mr. Rothschild, I’d like to see any boots and shoesyou have. And I might want to send a fingerprint expert by later today to takeyour prints.”
“There’s a pair of shoes at the end of the couch.” Hepointed to their direction. “I’ve got a pair of boots and a pair of athleticshoes in that closet,” he said, indicating the door. “I don’t have an occasionto wear any of them often. I spend most of my time right here in the apartment.I use this chair to get around the place, but most of the time I lie here justwhere I am now. I must say I’ve never been fingerprinted. So, you think I’myour man, huh, Lieutenant?”
“It looks that way. We found a little old lady downthe street and the tire tracks across her forehead resemble the ones on thischair.”
“That’s what I get for doing away with her in broad daylight.”Rothschild held out his hands. “I assume you have to cuff me.”
The three of us shared a laugh.
“No, seriously, Mr. Rothschild, we’re checking everyone.I doubt if anything comes of it, but orders are orders.”
“I understand, Lieutenant. You know where my shoes andboots are, and I’m not going anywhere in case you want some prints.”
After I checked his shoes and boots and found them notto be the ones that interested me, I stood and Lou followed suit. The two of usreturned the chairs to the kitchen table and said, “Goodbye.”
I knew that walls had ears, so the sergeant and Ididn’t discuss anything in the hall. Instead, we walked across the hall toapartment number three and knocked. The look on the man’s face when he openedthe door told me that his prints might match the ones at Overlook Inn. After Iintroduced myself, the man reluctantly admitted us to his apartment.
“I didn’t catch your name.”
“It’s Mulroney. Martin Mulroney. What’s all thisabout, Lieutenant?”
“I just have a few questions about some actors. Youare an actor, aren’t you, Mr. Mulroney?”
“I’m sure you already know that all of us in this buildingmake our living from acting, or did at one time.”
“Does that include Mrs. Crouch?”
“No, I meant the men.”
“Mr. Mulroney, can you tell me where you were onWednesday afternoon?”
“Wednesday? Let’s see. What day did it snow?”
“It snowed on Thursday.”
“Then Wednesday might’ve been the day I went out. I believeit was. Yeah, that’s right. I was out Wednesday.”
“No, I didn’t go out until just before noon.”
“And what time did you return home?”
“Probably about four.”
“And where were you over the weekend?”
“Yeah, you know the weekend. It was just yesterday.After the snow.”
“I was in and out. Mostly in.”
“Mr. Mulroney, I’m looking for some boots. Do you happento own some boots?”
“Yeah, but I wouldn’t be much help in telling you whatkind of boots to buy. I seldom wear them.”
“I don’t want to buy any boots, Mr. Mulroney. I wantto see your boots.”
“My boots. Whatever for?”
“For the time being, let’s just make it my secret.Now, will you get your boots for me?”
Reluctantly, Mulroney shuffled over to his closet,pulled out a pair of boots, and handed them to me. They didn’t match the ones Iwas looking for. When I found out that these boots were the only boots heowned, I was down to one ace.
“Mr. Mulroney, will you be home all day today?”
“I expect so. Hadn’t planned to go anywhere.”
“Fine, I want to have a fingerprint man stop by andtake your prints.”
“My prints. Whatever for, or is that a secret, too?”
“No, Mr. Mulroney, it’s not a secret. We’re lookingfor a man who went to the Overlook Inn over the weekend, once dressed as awoman, once dressed as a man. This man left his prints in both rooms. We have anice set, and we just wanted to see how closely they match your prints.”
“Oh, what’s the use. It was me, Lieutenant. The guyacross the hall told me that Longworth was going to be reopening the inn, andMcArthur came up with the idea to surprise Longworth by going in character. Idecided to one-up the others. I went as an old lady on Thursday, sneaked out inthe middle of the night Friday night, came back and changed characters, thenwent back again on Saturday, only I decided to hightail it when you got sonosy. I didn’t mean anything by it. And you can imagine how scared I was whensome guy dropped dead across the table. Was he one of us, Lieutenant?”
I sat there. I’d found my actor, but I hadn’t found myboots. Once I had unmasked Mulroney, he seemed so contrite, but then he was anactor.
“Mr. Mulroney, tell me a little bit about your actingcareer prior to this weekend.”
“Well, I got hooked when I saw the movieWitnessFor The Prosecution.When I found out it was originally a play written byAgatha Christie, I got interested in acting. Are you familiar with the work,Lieutenant?”
“It’s one of my favorite movies, along withWaitUntil Dark, Dial M For Murder,andNo Time For Sergeants.”
“Did you know that all of those movies have been playsat one time or another?”
“Yes, the first two were written by the same guy, FrederickKnott. I’ve been fortunate enough to act in all three tales of terror. I alwayswanted to play the part Charles Laughton played in the movie version ofWitnessFor The Prosecution, and I was fortunate to do so.”