Filling in for me today is my dear friend and award-winning short story author Darrell James. Look for the release of Darrell's first novel, Nazareth Child, coming October 2011 from Midnight Ink. -- Sue Ann
Consider, if you will, a mansion retreat, deep in the Bitterroot Wilderness. The original, cast of Clue, the board game, have come together for a final reunion. A chance to rekindle old relationships, repair lost loves, and reminisce about the glory days. Aging thespians, all, perhaps stuck in a time-warp between Pick-Up-Sticks and Game Boys. A place where bandied accusations, go hand-in-hand with murder and cocktails. A place we’ve come to know as… The Twilight Zone.
Snow had begun to fall, blanketing the mountain retreat in a white lacy shroud. Inside the expansive winter lodge, the festivities had all but come to an end. The wait-staff had been excused to their quarters. The bulk of the guests had said their goodbyes, comported their wishes for a long and prosperous future, and had beat a hasty retreat down the hill ahead of the storm. All that remained, looking bleary-eyed and full of drink, were the seven original cast members of the board game Clue, and one lone server to tidy up.
“Well, I guess old Boddy has done well for himself,” the Colonel said, taking a draw on a cigar stub that had been mostly chewed away. “This place is some kind of mansion, wouldn’t you say, chap?”
He was talking alone to Angelo Green, the two of them near the bookcase at the far side of the great room. Green had donned his signature leather jacket for the event, over his faux, man-of-the-cloth collar. He swigged beer from a bottle, as he always had. His eyes seemed to never stop shifting. He gave his shoulders a familiar jersey shrug. “What’s to guess. Know what I’m sayin’? Playing the victim can be lucrative? Look what it did for Shirley Booth. Am I right?”
“Still,” the Colonel said, “one has to wonder how he’s managed to hold on to so much of it. I mean, look at the rest of us. You’d think we’d all be millionaires after our run of good luck. Instead, we all look like refugees from the silent film era.”
Green followed the Colonel’s gaze across the room.
Sitting close to one another, gathered in confidence before a Queen Ann settee, was Mrs. White and Mrs. Peacock. They sipped tea, speaking quietly. Fostering rumors, no doubt, about the fates of one late-failed celebrity board-player or another. Near the fireplace, shapely legs crossed beneath her skirt, was Miss Scarlet. Always the vamp, she sipped brandy quietly, looking indifferent, maybe bored.
“You gotta admit,” Green said. “Miss Scarlet, whoa! Still the babe, huh? Got them gams, them brilliant headlights. I wouldn’t mind taking another run at that.”
“You can claim Scarlet, Old Chum?”
“Can’t we all? I mean, come on!” Green said, elbowing the Colonel, as if it was a known frat house confidence they shared.
“Well, damn nice of Boddy to host this reunion for us, just the same. I still say he’s come by his fortune by some licentious manner or another.” The Colonel hesitated, taking a brief headcount around the room. “Where is the old fellow by the way? I don’t see him or the Professor.”
“Last time I saw them, they were taking a walk out front,” Green said, squeezing in a sip of beer. “I was nosin’ around in the library a little, you know? Saw ‘em through the window. I ask myself then… Angelo, where the shits are Boddy and the Professor going in this kinda weather? Then I remembered the heated stables at the end of the walk. Probably showing them off. Plum in his hooded parka, Boddy in some full-length ermine kind a thing. You got his bucks, you can wear all the rat-coats you want, I guess.”
Just, then, the double doors, leading in from the main foyer, burst open. All eyes were drawn to where the sole attending servant stood, hanging onto the knobs as if he might collapse without their support. His eyes were wide, his face flushed from the cold. He seemed to want to say something, but was too breathless to speak.
“Well, what is it? Speak up, man,” the Colonel said.
“Mr. Boddy…” the servant managed. “He’s dead!”
A hush ran about the room. Colonel Mustard brushed anxiously at the cigar ash that had broke free to skipple down the front of his yellow uniform. Angelo Green’s jaw dropped, he pulled at his collar. The biddies huddled closer. Scarlet lit a cigarette and blew a plume of smoke toward the ceiling.
“Are you mad!” the Colonel said. He quickly crossed to the window and parted the curtains to peer out.
There, a few feet off the stone path leading to the stables, lay Mr. Boddy, their host, face down in the snow, his ermine coat spread out around him.
“Are you sure he’s dead?” the Colonel asked.
“I’m sure,” the servant said, leaving the support of the doors to collapse into the chair against the wall. “He’s been murdered.”
“Who would do such a thing?” Mrs. Peacock queried, her face drawn-up in disbelief.
“It could only be one of us, dear!” Mrs. White responded, her manner ever patient. “We’re the only ones left. The other guests have long since departed.”
All eyes seemed to turn at once to Angelo Green.
“What? What’s everybody looking at me for? I look like I could kill our distinguished host?”
“Are you sure it’s murder?” the Colonel asked, letting the curtains fall closed. He stepped away from the window now and turned to the servant.
“What else could it be? I found this next to his body.” The servant proffered a rather lethal looking candlestick, an ice-cake of blood, frozen to one end. He tossed it onto the floor in front them. The candlestick landed with a solid thud, offering proof positive it was fit for the job.
“Well, there you go,” Green said, “the answer to Mrs. Peacock’s question. It’s obvious, ain’t it… Mrs. White is the killer!”
“What?” the accusation drew a rush of breath. Her hand came to her bosom, her eyes went wide expressing absurdity.
“It was Mrs. White, on the sidewalk, with the candlestick. My unbiased opinion,” Green said. “It’s always the quiet ones that harbor the secrets. Know what I’m sayin’?”
“That’s ridiculous! What motive would I have?”
“Who needs motive. We haven’t had one in over sixty years. It’s never means, motive, and opportunity. It’s always been who, what, and where. All you need in this business.” Green leaned back against the bookcase and crossed his arms, as if to say his job there was basically done.
“Not so fast, Green,” the Colonel said. “Didn’t you say it was Plum who left with our host. ‘Taking a walk toward the stables,’ I believe were your exact words.”
“Yes! Where is the Professor?” Peacock added.
Just then, Professor Plum stumbled out of the upstairs hallway and onto the stairs. He was in his socks, t-shirt, and boxers. His hair was disarrayed. He looked somewhat confused.
“What’s going on? I feel like I’ve been slipped a roofie.”
“What are you doing there? We thought you were with our host at the stables?”
Professor Plum stumbled down the stairs to join the gathering. “Stables? Host? What are you talking about? What time is it? Where are my clothes?”
“Well if it wasn’t Plum with the candlestick, then who was it I saw in the man’s parka and pants?” Green said.
“It had to be the Colonel, on the sidewalk, with the lead pipe,” White said.
“No! The Professor still could have done it!”
“I think it was Peacock…”
“The Colonel would have more reason…”
“I think Plum…
… and, so, witness wisely, for your own edification, what welcomes the antiquated board character. A never ending cycle of hellish death and accusation. Heed wisely, the warning. Because, should you fall prey to the seductive lure of boardmanship, you too could one day receive invitation to a reunion. An invitation sent from… The Twilight Zone.
Okay, well, that was fun. When Sue Ann Jaffarian first asked me guest post on her behalf, I let out a groan, seeing the topic at hand. But, being the anything-for-a-friend kind of guy that I am, I readily agreed. I have found pleasantly, however, as others have stated here, that it became something of an enjoyable challenge, not to mention a trip down memory lane. Thanks, Sue Ann, for thinking of me. And thanks to all of you for letting me participate.
… Darrell James, author of the forthcoming, Nazareth Child.