The Iron Writer Challenge #70
2014 Summer Solstice Challenge #5
Ghost of a Chance
Here Lies Nancy Drew
She died in the bathroom
Talk about lousy epitaphs. When am I gonna learn? I’m seventy-four years old, for Christ’s sake!
Too old to plant my boney butt on cold, chipped linoleum in a bathroom that smelled like mold and mouse poop, waiting with my back against the door to be shot, stabbed or strangled.
A lifetime ago—when I hung with Bess, George and Ned—I’d’ve clambered through that broken window by the sink, tiptoed across the roof, hopped to the front porch awning. Quick shimmy down the post and I’d have the drop on that mope Reginald Farmington Smythe, currently searching the first floor and hot on my trail.
If I tried the acrobatics now? In my ankle-length Armani sheath? With these arthritic knees? I’d break a hip.
“Had to have that last glass of wine, didn’t you, Nance? Couldn’t leave while you were bored. Oh, no. You had to be polite. Had to hang until Sheila suggested a trip to the local haunt, Bentonhurst Manor. Until Reg acted hinky and tried to talk you out of it. You had to satisfy your curiosity tonight? Suss out his twenty kilos all by your lonesome?”
What kind of geriatric numbskull explores a creaky, cobwebby Warwickshire manor house at midnight, anyway? Wearing 5” Manolos, no less! What excuse for a PI leaves both her cell phone and herbaby Glock in the Astin Martin?
“Nancy? You. Are. Toast.”
“I’m disappointed, Ms. Drew.”
I gasped, nearly jumped out of my Spanx. Didn’t feel any better when I discovered the voice belonged to a transparent guy—bald bald on top, owl-eyed glasses perched on his button nose—doing his best to look serious and dignified, a tough act to pull off when you’re sitting in a claw-foot bathtub.
“Oh, goody. Now I’m hallucinating.”
“You’re not. Those of us on the other side call this a visitation.”
“The other—” I groaned. “Don’t tell me, let me guess. You’re a ghost.”
“Anthony Eustace Pratt, at your service.”
“Okay, I’m swearing off Bordeaux right now.” Then it clicked, and I sat up straighter. “Wait. You said Anthony Pratt? Would that be ‘Colonel Mustard in the library with a candlestick’ Pratt?”
“In the fle—” He broke off, blushed, cleared his throat. “Precisely. And uniquely equipped to assist you here. Inspiration?” prompted the late-great Pratt in the face of my blank expression. Then, impatiently, “Think, woman! There must be something you can use to defend yourself!”
“Oh! Well ….”
Getting into the spirit (no pun intended), I reconnoitered. Dusty sink, cracked mirror draped with an old ribbon, ancient back brush dangling from the tub’s spigot …. My gaze caught on the brush’s long wooden handle. Darted to the glass incisor glinting in the window sill, then to the ribbon.
My smile bloomed slowly. “I don’t care if you are a hallucination, pal. You rock.”
“I’m not—” Tony sighed and started to fade. “Best hurry.”
When the door finally opened, I made my move.
Reggie Smythe, in the john, with a homemade spear.
Rules are Rules
“No! Why must you insist on the unusual and most unrealistic outcomes? There’s no way the victim had committed suicide! Do you really not know how to play?”
“I know how to play Cluedo, the rules are clearly stated on the instructional paper!”
William sighed, shaking his head. “How can you not play by said rules then?”
Okay, so perhaps Scott did read the rules, but with only two people playing, how else was he to deduce the correct answer? This game was getting boring to begin with.
“Imagine the scenario, right now,” William instructed, slamming his hand down on the table forcefully. “We’re in the mansion.”
“Such an awful choice for interior design…”
“Focus, Scott! All the suspects are with us. You remember who is dead?”
“Dr. Black. I have a one in 324 chance of guessing correctly, and yet no one ever thinks that he could have just—”
“He didn’t kill himself! If you know the amount of—wait, did you use Wikipedia to research this game?” William asked trying to look at Scott’s hands. His phone was resting idly in a loose grip.
“I was wondering what kind of psychopath would invent such a game. Did you know Anthony Pratt had sold the rights to his game for a mere 5000 pounds? Well, that’s worth more now, but—”
“You’re missing the point, Scott,” William said, seething that his friend just couldn’t grasp the meaning of ‘game.’ “You know what? I give up. Make another guess, and if you’re right, drinks on me.”
“… The room in which the crime was committed was the study; tool of murder? Revolver. Suspect: Miss Scarlett.”
William sighed as he opened the small envelope. After viewing the contents, the man sighed. “Can you begin to explain to me how you got this right…?”
Scott grinned and leaned down in his chair. “First off, the crime was one of passion,” —at which point William’s face landed in his palms— “and seeing as how the victim was most likely a male based on his name alone, and due to the fact Mrs. White and Peacock are married, Scarlett was a mistress to the dear deceased Dr. Black. She couldn’t stand the fact that he wasn’t hers. Revolver? Oh dear that’s a loud sound. And the most painful. Seeing as how I have the rope and by your lack of card hiding abilities you have the dagger, to make this look like a suicide, Miss Scarlett had killed him with the revolver and placed it in his own hand. ‘Why the study, Scott?’ Well, didn’t you know? Dr. Black was doing his end of the night paper work in peace.”
William stared at Scott for a long while; Scott’s face showed pure happiness. William told him to enter than mansion and he did. He made that crime scene real, he felt like a real Sherlock Holmes of a sort. William, on the other hand, threw the table over in a rage and took his leave.
The Professor’s Last Chance
I never showed anger, relief or gratitude when it came to business. Business was supposed to be emotionless. But I couldn’t help slam both my fists on the desk when Dr. Edgar Lipscomb told me he did not have my synthetic marijuana formula complete.
Calmly I collected myself, fixed my mussed hair and repositioned the pens that scattered on my desk. I placed one hand over another and stared into Dr. Lipscomb’s eyes for an uncomfortable 10 seconds. When he stopped stammering and apologizing for his repeated failures at creating an untraceable and odorless synthetic marijuana formula, I pulled out my custom blue metal SIG Sauer and placed it on its side on the desk. The barrel pointed at the University of Cincinnati chemist. He quickly shut up.
“Okay, I’ll give you one chance, professor.” I placed a hand on the weapon, softly rubbing the grip with my forefinger. “Why did you fail?”
The professor turned a dark red. “The, the HTC levels. I, I can’t get them at the same levels as in, in natural cannabis that you want. I feel I’m, I’m only weeks away.”
I picked up my SIG Sauer, rolled my desk chair away from the desk and stood up. “Are you a familiar with Anthony Pratt, professor?”
He violently shook his head. His eyes fixed on me as I walked around to my office shelves.
“I love mysteries. I’ve read all these mystery books in this office. I even love ‘Scooby-Doo’ and the gang.” I picked up my toy Mystery Machine and showed him. “Hell, I even enjoyed the movie ‘Clue.’ Actually I love that movie. I crack up every time I see it.”
“I’ve, I’ve seen it,” Lipscomb said, still stuttering. “It’s, it’s very funny.”
“Well, I asked if you were familiar with Anthony Pratt. He invented the game ‘Clue,’ or ‘Cluedo’ as it was originally called.” I picked up a purple game piece of my “Clue” game on display.
I sat on my desk in front of Lipscomb and leaned forward. His face was still a dark red. “Now professor, every day you are behind on your deadline – and I’ll extend that deadline one week – you are costing me a lot of money. I’m paying you a very handsome stipend to make this for me so you can continue your research.”
Lipscomb’s sweat started to drip from his forehead. A few drops landed on the lapel of his lavender dress shirt. “And I, I thank you for that. You are very gen-generous.”
“Well, my generosity is going to run out along with my patience if you miss this next deadline – and you may run out, too, my friend. Now I won’t kill you in my office, or study if you will.” I stood up and placed the purple game piece where I sat. I tapped the game piece with the barrel of my handgun and Lipscomb caught it in his hands deep in his lap. “It will be the professor who is killed with the handgun.”
His face lit up with shock and disgust when he saw the state the living room was left in. She was always so fastidiously tidy that the detritus filled floor caused his already deflated and broken heart to sink even further. The books that had lined wall after wall lay ripped and despondent on the floor and the once neat furniture was slashed and torn- plastic furniture protectors and all.
“Looks like something from Anthony E Pratt’s imagination.” The detective grinned, excited and impressed with his own wit as always. “I suppose I have to explain that to you,” he began, his eyes pre-emptively rolling in his skull. His sardonic explanation was cut short however, by a robotic voice’s response. JX200 clearly didn’t get sarcasm yet.
“Anthony Eustace Pratt (10 August 1903 – 9 April 1994) was the inventor of the board game Cluedo. Pratt was born at 13 Brighton Ro…”
“Calm down Wikipedia, I guess you got this one. I can’t see anything that would explain what has happened here; apart from the clear self-defence marks nothing here makes sense.” Scanning the room over and over for clues left him no the wiser. This was to prove a hard nut to crack. He felt it in his gut. At least he hoped he did, maybe his greasy pizza from an all-night café was on its way to say hello again.
It was clear a knife or equally sharp weapon had been used in the vicious attack and that the prolonged savagery had left one lonely old lady dead and two greedy sons millions richer but the detective knew they were not involved, at least directly. He was sure that feeling in his gut wasn’t the pizza.
JX200 beeped and whirred like something from science fiction had stepped right into the room. Though he made an effort to hide his disdain for the machine, it was half hearted and in the darkest, most stressful moments of an investigation he couldn’t help shouting at C3P0 to shut the hell up.
The room was silent but for the almost indeterminable sounds of JX200’s calculations and deductions bouncing off the flock wallpaper and chintz cushions of the stately home’s living room. “Sir.” Silence as the machine waited for its superior’s response. A JX machine rarely spoke without being spoken to, as if it was a Victorian child- to be seen and not heard. “I have a hypothesis, Sir.”
The detective rolled his eyes even further towards the back of his skull this time, mentally preparing for the know-it-all machine to beat him to the conclusion once again. It would seem so obvious then. It always did after the fact. He glanced at the robot and even though he knew it was 100% impossible, the detective could have sworn he saw a grin break out across the smooth metallic surface of JX200’s face.
“I DON’T THINK THIS ONE WAS COLONEL MUSTARD IN THE LIBRARY WITH THE REVOLVER, SIR.”
Maybe JX200 did get sarcasm after all.