Monday, January 24, 2011

The Boddy in the Snowbank

by Jennie Bentley, in for the fantabulous Jeannie Holmes


“When I walked outside that morning, he was facedown in the snow, still wearing his tuxedo from last night and no overcoat. There was no mark on him, no footprints in the snow, nothing to show what had happened.

The last time I saw Mr. Boddy alive was at dinner. Veal Parmesan. There were five guests. All were there to, quote, ‘assist Mr. Boddy with his research,’ unquote.

On Mr. Boddy’s right sat Mrs. Peacock, wife of Marcus Peacock, the reclusive millionaire, and over dessert, Mr. Boddy accused her of having done away with no less than four of her previous husbands. The real reason she was there, however, was so that Mr. Boddy could see the look on her face when he told her that her current husband had been caught on camera coming out of Scarlet Begonia’s apartment in the wee hours of the morning one day last week. Lavinia was furious, of course, and it didn’t make Scarlet happy either, especially when Lavinia threw an entire glass of Cabernet Sauvignon in her face, completely ruining her make-up.

Boddy had another reason for inviting Scarlet. Professor Peter Plum was among the guests. Five years ago, Plum lost his license to practice psychology after word got out that he had made sexual overtures toward a patient. Well, that patient was Scarlet Begonia, and she was only fourteen at the time. So the scandal was even more scandalous than anyone originally thought.

Boddy had gotten that piece of intelligence from the Reverend John Green, who has some sort of strange connection with Mrs. Begonia, Scarlet’s mother. She seems to be one of these crazy women who finds solace in bogus TV evangelists. According to Mr. Boddy, she has given all her money to Reverend Green, and that’s why Scarlet set her sights on Marcus Peacock and his millions. Incidentally, the money Mrs. Begonia gave the Reverend Green, was the money she had gotten from Peter Plum in return for keeping her mouth shut about the scandal, so Professor Plum wasn’t too happy after Green spilled the beans that Plum had paid through the nose to keep buried.

Mr. Boddy’s tame investigator, Michael Mustard, seemed to be the one who had procured the photographic evidence of the affair between Scarlet and Marcus Peacock. And not only that, but Mr. Boddy had figured out that Mustard was Lavinia’s first husband, the one who disappeared in the Congo six years ago. Neither of them offered an explanation, but either way, Mrs. Peacock clearly isn’t Mrs. Peacock at all. She’s Mrs. Mustard, and a bigamist.

All in all, it was a memorable meal. Everyone was scowling at everyone else, while David Boddy sat in the middle of it all and took mental notes, grinning from ear to ear.

After dinner, everyone went their separate ways. Lavinia retired to her room—and who could blame her?—while Scarlet did her best to stir up trouble in the library, where the men had retired to drink. Plum and Green almost came to blows, and Mustard had to break them up.

After that little brouhaha, Mr. Boddy retired to his study to work on his latest exposé. I could hear the click-click-click of the keyboard from my room behind the pantry. Everyone else went upstairs, and then the migrations started. Lavinia Peacock headed for Michael Mustard’s room, Professor Plum headed for Scarlet’s—and found it empty because she was already in with the Reverend Green. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have found any one of them dead the next morning, by someone’s hand, and that’s the truth.

However, when I woke up and went outside to pick up the morning news, it was Mr. Boddy I found facedown in the snowbank.

The first clue to what had happened, even before I got outside, was that the front door was locked. From the inside. With a deadbolt. And not only that, it was chained, too.

There was nothing about Boddy that gave any indication of how he had met his demise. No gunshot wound, no blunt force trauma to the head, no lingering odor of almonds. No footprints other than his own. He was just dead. Cold and dead. Clutching a matchbox in his hand.

It seemed obvious. Mr. Boddy had come outside to smoke a last cigarette before bed, the way he always did, and someone had locked the door behind him, causing him to freeze to death. He couldn’t have planned to stay outside long, or he would have worn an overcoat. He probably used the matches to try to keep himself warm. If he pounded on the door, no one heard him. Not surprising, as the guest rooms are upstairs and most of the guests were busy with other things. The less said about that, the better.

But was it murder?

I’m afraid I believe it was. And it’s obvious who the killer is. If Lavinia Peacock was with Michael Mustard, and Scarlet was with John Green, then Peter Plum was the only suspect without an alibi. He must have come downstairs after he failed to find Scarlet, to have it out with Mr. Boddy. Finding the study empty and the front door ajar, he must have snatched at the opportunity to get rid of Mr. Boddy once and for all, before the author could turn Plum’s venality into another of his sensational exposés.”

Stopping for air and to give the nice policeman taking her statement enough time to catch up, Mrs. Blanche White, cook and housekeeper to the late Mr. David Boddy, leaned back on her chair and crossed her ankles demurely. “That should do it, I believe. The events of last weekend in as much detail as I can recall. Is there anything else I can do for you, young man?”

The young constable shook his head. “I don’t think so, Mrs. White. Open and shut case, seems to me. If you’ll just sign for me.” He uncapped a pen and placed it on the desk next to the witness statement.

“Of course, dear.” Mrs. White signed her name with a flourish. “Yes, it seemed that way to me, too. Open and shut. I suppose all of Mr. Boddy’s research is gone?”

“If he had any research on his computer,” the young constable confirmed, “we couldn’t find it. The hard drive was wiped.”

“Professor Plum must have gone into the study and done it, I expect. After Mr. Boddy was dead.” Mrs. White clicked her tongue and shook her head. “As a professor, he would have the know-how, of course. I would have no idea how to do something like that myself, but then I never did get much of an education. Been on my own since I was sixteen, I’m afraid.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, ma’am.”

Mrs. White got to her feet. “If there’s nothing else, I guess I’ll be on my way.”

The young constable stood as well, his face concerned. “Do you have somewhere to go, Mrs. White? It’s not easy, losing a job in this economy.”

Mrs. White smiled. “I’ll be going to stay with my sister and her husband for a while. We don’t have much, but we have each other.”

She bustled out of the police station, the very picture of the dowdy housekeeper. After a few seconds, a big car pulled up to the curb and the back door opened. Lavinia Peacock grinned at her sister from the passenger seat, and Scarlet scooted across the back to make room for her mother.

“Where’s John?” Blanche asked, looking around the interior of the car. It was Lavinia who answered.

“Back at work. He’ll be in touch. You know what he’s like. Did everything work out all right in there?”

“Of course.” Blanche took off her unfashionable hat, unbuttoned the top two buttons on her prim blouse, and crossed her legs. Above the knee this time. “What could go wrong?”

“He could have caught on to the names?” Scarlet suggested. “Any idiot should have realized they were fake.”

Blanche shrugged. “The boy’s name is Bruno Gray. He probably thought Green, White, and Mustard were perfectly reasonable names.”

Scarlet huffed.

“So no problems?” Michael wanted to know, from behind the wheel. “No questions about the fact that your room was on the first floor, and you should have heard David Boddy banging on the door? No suggestion that you didn’t have an alibi and might have been the one who locked the door behind him?”

Blanche shook her head. “Not a one. Bruno said it seemed like an open and shut case. Nice boy. You could do worse, Scarlet. It never hurts to have a policeman in the family.”

Scarlet sniffed.

Her mother continued, “Peter Plum is out of our hair, finally paying for what he did, and David Boddy won’t be writing about us—or anyone else—ever again. I think it was a good night’s work.”

She leaned back, smiling. After a second, she added, “But next time, Lavinia can be the cook and maid, and I’ll be the wealthy divorcee.”

“Fine with me,” Lavinia said, smiling. In the back seat, Scarlet rolled her eyes and turned up the sound on her iPod.



* * *

Author's Note: A couple of weeks ago, Jeannie asked me if I'd mind taking over her blog date on the 24th. She had a deadline, I had a new release; it made sense. She told me, “You'll really like the blog topic for the week!” (No doubt chuckling merrily to herself as she wrote it.) I said yes, and what did I get?

“The Clue characters are locked in a winter lodge. Mr. Boddy is found dead in a snowdrift with no visible signs of trauma. Who did it and how do you prove it using just the things in the lodge?”

I'm gonna get you, Jeannie. Just you wait. Sometime when you least expect it, you'll turn around, and there I'll be. With the candlestick.

9 comments:

Jeannie Holmes said...

A magnificent mini-mystery! Thank you a thousand times over for stepping in today, Jennie!! I'll repay you with hugs and coffee...I'll be waiting in the library....With a lead pipe.

TracyK said...

A great post! Thanks for joining us this week Jennie!

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Now I'm officially scared of both Jennie and Jeannie!

Great post, Jennie! I'm reading it in parlor, with a pistol...

Graham Brown said...

Jennie - this was great fun to read - I loved it. Beware the Candlestick :).

Meredith Cole said...

Wow! Thanks for giving us a Monday mini mystery. I used to love to play Clue (big surprise).

Jennie Bentley said...

Thanks, everyone! You guys are playing Clue this week, right? It's not just me, is it? The rest of you will have to tackle Mr. Boddy in the snowbank as well, won't you?

Kelli Stanley said...

BRILLIANT!!! Thank you, Jennie--I LOVED the family ending!! I'll never look at a Mrs. White card in quite the same way ... ;)

xoxo

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Actually, Jennie, we just pull that one out to torture guests. This week's real question is about point of view.

Jeannie Holmes said...

Dang it, Becky! Now you've gone and spoiled the fun. We'll have to change the "I suckered (blank) into guest posting for me" question....again. *sigh*