Friday, January 28, 2011

Get A Clue

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

I don’t know a single mystery writer who doesn’t have a couple of “go-to” quips about Colonel Mustard in the Conservatory with the candlestick. I am no exception. Like all games, the first step is to pick your piece. Now, I would like to be Miss Scarlet but girl shoes hurt my feet and red is not my color. Therefore, I shall be Mrs. Peacock, wealthy socialite wearing a Chanel suit and a blue silk scarf that brings out my eyes.

The only rule in my version of Clue is never split up to search the basement while a creepy soundtrack plays. Easy enough. And why is it that no one ever seems to realize that if the murder is an inside job, and you split into pairs someone has just drawn a seriously short straw? Of course, I am dismissing the Murder on the Orient Express let’s play together approach because what would be the point of searching for clues if everyone is in on it? Wouldn’t you really just hang out drinking Mr. Boddy’s best cognac next to a roaring fire and wait until the weather clears so you can go your separate ways? Our investigation is going to keep us within sight of everyone all the time.

Time of death is the first order of business. It pays not to be squeamish. One meat thermometer from the kitchen, Grey’s Anatomy and a sharpie from the Library, put the corpse up on the billiard table where the light is good, thrust deeply and you have liver temp. 0.8K drop in liver temperature for every hour post mortem allowing for ambient temperature and conditions. If the body is in the Ballroom, empty and closed off, the body temperature might have fallen faster. Next to the Kitchen’s working oven or in the hot house of the Conservatory (where moisture might be a factor, too), the temperature would drop more slowly. I know that he wasn’t killed before he offered to auction off his little black book of secrets and headed into the Study alone, turning the key in the lock. Do the math and you have a window of opportunity for committing the crime.

Cause of death is trickier. Some things might be eliminated but, without a lab and actual training, some of it will be guess work. Mr. Boddy could have had a convenient heart attack. Really convenient. There’s hoping the autopsy bears that out when access to the rest of the world is restored but only an insane person wouldn’t at least consider foul play especially when the circumstances mean you not only passed a murderer the potatoes over dinner, they might want to kill the remaining witnesses, including you, just to be sure. No visible trauma, upon a close inspection using Mrs. White’s coke-bottle spectacles, eliminates some causes and weapons. Gun, knife and candlestick probably didn’t play a role although they were readily available in the Kitchen, Dining Room and Study respectively. I assume a felon inviting his victims for dinner would be an advocate of the Second Amendment. The wrench, possibly kept under the sink in the Kitchen or in the Conservatory with its misting system would also leave a dent. The analysis isn’t full-proof. Mr. Boddy could have been bashed without the skin breaking, maybe in his hair, without bruising appearing yet.

Lifting an eyelid, Boddy’s eyes appear bloodshot. That could mean strangulation or suffocation. Or the bottle of wine he had at dinner. The inspection of the body didn’t show a ligature mark like rope would leave (lots of handy weapons in a Conservatory) but not every method of strangulation or suffocation would leave a ligature mark. A pillow, like those on the couch in the Lounge or even on the chairs in the Dining Room or Ballroom, would do the trick. It might be worth having a look at those things. See if anything is slimed with saliva or mucus. And check the neckties of the men. Anyone askew? A cloth ligature is less likely to leave a mark and even if one does appear, it might not show until after the body comes out of rigor mortis . Putting Mr. Boddy on ice, literally in the freezer, would speed the process. The cops won’t be thrilled the DIY liver probe probably already put them in a bad mood. So suffocation and strangulation are still options. This theory suggests either a stronger individual or an unconscious victim. Did he have enough to drink at dinner to render him unconscious? Could someone have drugged him? Who has drugs with them? Mrs. White with her arthritic hands? Mr. Green with his hacking cough? Miss Scarlet with her date night party pack?

If turning out pockets and searching handbags yields any pharmaceuticals, recreational or otherwise, Mr. Boddy could have died of an overdose. Of course, that could be self-inflicted although it would fall into the same lucky ducky cause of death category as a brain aneurism gone bust at just the right moment. Still, he’s well-heeled (on the fruits of others’ labors) and not a rule follower. He might have been naughty in more than one area of his life. A personal drug stash in a house where Boddy lives alone is probably in a place where the living really happens. A search should start with the Study and Lounge. And the Conservatory. I mean a Conservatory in the private home of a bachelor in this day and age makes me think two words: grow operation. If there isn’t any indication that Mr. Boddy had become easy pickings, I might concentrate my efforts on the men. Both methods are up close and personal. Both require some degree of strength. Is Colonel Mustard and actual Colonel? If so, he might have training. Mr. Green is a big guy, he might have been able to use brute strength to suffocate Boddy. Professor Plum looks like a fop but so did the Scarlet Pimpernel and that dude could throw down.

Poison could explain the lack of trauma. Statistically, poison is a girl’s game. Less messy. Less about size, speed, strength. Every house has plenty of things that will kill you and clean your drain. But without Boddy’s cooperation, poisoning him would be pretty hard. No one else is sick so a communal introduction in the bouillabaisse isn’t likely. Unless some of the guests had an opportunity to be alone with access to food or drink before Mr. Boddy made it clear that he was going to continue to blackmail everyone in the room, the actual poisoning would require premeditation in the form of bringing the poison and David Copperfield’s sleight of hand ability to deliver it while everyone was snacking on the entrée. Maximum bold points but we’re talking a pretty cool customer. A serious risk taker. Not the kind of person who’d hedge bets by paying blackmail. That person would play offense, not defense.

We don’t have the definitive cause of death we’ve tried to duplicate scientific methodology. We’ve narrowed the pool of suspects suspects based on educated guesses and the things we’ve found and haven’t found in the house. In looking for possible weapons, we’ve been in every room, opened every drawer. We even checked Boddy’s computer for internet connectivity to bring in the professionals. Or at least that’s what we said when we were really looking for the mother lode of information he had on us. Okay, so maybe the whole investigation was nothing more than a neighborhood scavenger hunt but even the computer in the Study, once Professor Plum figured out there had to be a secret passage from the Kitchen, was a bust. The hard drive had been reformatted. Maybe some whiz kid would have eventually figured it out but, given our group priorities, we decided it would be better if the hard drive lost a fight with the fish pond in the Conservatory. After falling victim to the wrench, the candlestick and the revolver.

It doesn’t matter. I can explain my prints in every room. Any fiber or hair is mere transfer during our investigation. And without the information from the computer, there is no motive. The same information that fits neatly on the flash drive I slid into the ticket pocket above my right suit pocket. Chanel does make a nice suit and when I turned out the full pocket, the upper slash isn’t even visible. As for the weapon, the scarf could have been my late husband’s favorite. Before he became my late husband, of course. As for method, I've never been a girlie girl. Offense, not defense.

Rule to live by: Never, ever let yourself be blackmailed.



Meredith Cole said...

It's no wonder people are frightened of mystery writers, Gabi! You know quite a bit about, er, murder--and you're one cool customer. Your ex-husband never had a chance... Great post!

clpauwels said...

Very nice! I'll never again play Clue in quite the same state of mind..

Joshua Corin said...

So methodical! Gabi, I may have to cast you as the protagonist in my next mystery series...

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Gabi is scarier than the rest of us mystery writers, I think. I'm only meeting her in public places where I bring my own food and drink. Maybe the airport after she's been searched for weapons and everything is one surveillance camera.

Great post, Gabi! (whom I would never want to offend, ever)

Reece said...

You are one cold-blooded customer, Gabi! And you've clearly played a few games of Clue. Nice post!

Kelli Stanley said...

Ouch, Gabi ... you are one scary Clue character!!! :)

Love it!!! Thank God you only use your powers for good ... er, you do, don't you? ;)