The seven of them stared out through the crossbeams of the lodge's casement windows and watched with quiet anxiety as the sun began its dip below the distant hills of snow. In less than an hour, the world outside would be bathed in a darkness so deep that nothing would be discernible, not even the corpse of their easy-going friend Mr. Boddy, lying face-up in the snow drift two feet from the lodge's front door.
The colonel had been the first one to spot him. He tossed the brown nugget leftover of his Cuban cigar into the red-brick fireplace and made for the door, the lodge's only door, but the jamb, which had been wonky all week, was frozen shut. By now, the others had noticed the commotion and, one by one, floated away from their conversations about politics and religion to the front windows. The matronly widow and the green-eyed reverend screamed. The professor nearly fell to the floor; the half-eaten fruit in his hand did. Only the ornithologist and the floozy maintained their composure, the former due to having a scientific disposition bordering on sociopathy and the latter due to having a brandy alexander disposition bordering on alcoholism.
The reverend, as was his duty, asked the obvious question. "What happened to him?"
"He said he needed some fresh air, but he's only been gone five-and-a-half minutes," added the professor and he waited impatiently for one of them to ask how he could be so precise. No one rose to the bait.
Of one fact they all agreed: sometime in the five-and-a-half minutes between Mr. Boddy - the shared friend they each had, the one man who could and would comfortably refer to them each by their first name - leaving the cabin and the colonel spotting him out there on the snow drift, their amiable pal had become a corpse. From the unblinking, heavenward stare of his eyes to the unmoving, akimbo arrangement of his limbs, that much, at least, was certain. And although the weather outside was chilly, it was nowhere near the chasm-like temperatures required to kill a man in so short a time, especially a man in as LL Bean a snowsuit as Mr. Boddy wore.
"Maybe he had a stroke," suggested the floozy between sips.
"No," replied the widow. "His face isn't contorted enough."
She didn't add that two of her five husbands had died of strokes. Everyone in the room was well-aware of the fact, and thus deemed her opinion as expert. They also deemed her motives as suspect. During this week-long winter rendezvous, had the widow made an advance on Mr. Boddy that he, perhaps, had rejected? Hell hath no fury like a widow scorned...
The colonel took this opportunity to announce that the door was stuck. Nobody seemed to care.
Meanwhile, the light outside the cabin dimmed and dimmed and dimmed. Gradually, one by one, the cabin guests left their viewpoints at the window and settled back in their armchairs and love seats and sofas, and the solipsistic fire, as fires tend to be, continued its cracking-pop heat-dance in its brick nook.
Only the ornithologist remained at the window, and soon there was nothing to see out there by a black void, but still she remained, staring, until finally she turned around and faced the group and said:
"I know how he died."
They looked up from their drinks and conversation.
"Furthermore," she continued, "I know who killed him, and why."
The professor cleared his throat. "With all due respect, madam, you know these facts how?"
"Empiricism," she replied. "Do you need a definition, professor?"
The professor cleared his throat again, but said nothing. So, unchallenged, she proceeded:
"In my study of birds, I've come across recent literature regarding the flu viruses - especially the avian flu - and the vaccines being developed to treat them. There is significant evidence to indicate that a small percentage of these vaccines, when administered, induce anaphylactic shock."
Now the widow raised her hand. "Are you implying that one of us shot up Mr. Boddy with a syringe? If so, feel free to search me. I'm deathly afraid of needles."
"Perhaps 'deathly' is a bad choice of words," muttered the reverend.
"This," the ornithologist explained, "is by way of saying that I have become well aware of the symptoms of anaphylactic shock, and it is entirely possible that Mr. Boddy's need for a 'breath of fresh air' was a sign that his esophagus was closing up."
"So he was allergic to something..." mused the colonel. "...and one of us knew it..."
"Colonel, I merely postulated that anaphylaxis was the cause of his death. As it turns out, the truth is much, much simpler. But thinking about anaphylaxis got me fixated on the notion of needles and I wondered not only what other injections could cause a reaction similar to this but also what injections would be commonly found among a group of friends, and there can only be one resulting answer."
"Heroin?" warbled the floozy.
"Insulin," replied the ornithologist. "And so in our midst we have a type-1 diabetic."
The professor chuckled. "Madam, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but diabetes is hardly a crime."
"You would know," she said to him, "wouldn't you, Professor?"
All eyes turned to the professor, who shrugged and reached for a plum from the bowl of fruit on the table.
"Insulin injected into a diabetic regulates the blood sugar," she explained to the group. "Insulin injected into a relatively healthy person can lead to hypoglycemia, one symptom of which is light-headedness, which I'm sure we can all agree would lead someone to want to seek 'a breath of fresh air.'"
"And how do you expect to prove that I shot Mr. Boddy full of insulin?" Again, the professor shrugged. "Huh? Did you happen to see a needle mark on his body? By the time the door jamb unfreezes in the morning, his skin will be so destroyed with frost that any evidence will be gone."
"Spoken like a killer," the widow said, narrowing her eyes.
"Actually, Professor, you're providing us with the evidence right now. Because, you see, the diabetic who gives someone else his insulin shot is in a pickle, which is to say he still needs his own insulin shot for the day to regulate his abnormal blood sugar levels. Insulin, of course, is not the only way a diabetic can battle his own condition, which leads me to ask, Professor - is that your second piece of fruit in the past hour or your third?"
"You bastard!" The colonel charged forward at the professor, slapped the plum from his hand, and gripped him tightly by the wrists. "Why? Why?"
"He kept calling me by my first name!" the professor replied. "I have tenure, damn it!"
Shortly thereafter, the ornithologist led them all in a science experiment of her own, demonstrating what happens to a type-1 diabetic over the course of 14-hours when he is tied to a chair by the fire and denied access to insulin or fruit.