My local book club is the most fun I have. We read a book every month, then get together to discuss it. Well, we sort of discuss it amongst all the food and wine provided by whoever is hosting.
Being part of the book club has opened my eyes to a lot of books and genres I never would have read otherwise. And made me realize yes, I can be a detective, sort of.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Six months ago, I was really looking forward to our latest book club get-together. That month I had recommended a book for us, "The Killer Pantry" by Simon Miller, our first cozy crime. My friend Seth was hosting and conveniently he only lived about 10 minutes away from me, on foot.
I packed my backpack with the wine I said I would bring, slipped in the book we were reading, and strolled down the block in the glorious sunshine. It was June, it was warm, and life was oh so good.
Walking up the path to Seth's house, I was joined by the rest of the crowd. Well, we're only five in total and we all are very on-time people. I hugged Marge, Bill and Samantha and then rang the bell.
Seth opened it immediately, red in the face, almost as red as the hair on his head.
"What the hell do you want now?," he screamed, obviously not realizing it was the book club ready to drink, um ready to discuss.
"Seth," I yelled, flashing my blue eyes in his direction.
(yes, I thought he was so hot)
He blinked and took a deep breath.
"Oh, sorry Larry. Come in everyone," he said as he moved away from the doorway and led us all into his grand great room.
I had tried to leave my jealously at home, but I was just in awe, as I was every time.
Acting as if he hadn't ripped open the door and yelled, he was the gracious host he always was. Beautiful matching crystal goblets were quickly filled, all with red wine, and he had already put out a spread to make the most luxurious host or hostess green with envy.
He went in to the kitchen to pull something out of the oven and we all took the chance to ooh and aah our surroundings. I looked around but was also dreaming of Seth. He was just yummy.
Strolling back into the great room, Seth placed a steaming tray of gooey nachos on a hot plate.
He passed around his family bone china and we all got settled to start talking about the book. Yes, we actually did some of that at the beginning.
Bill, Marge and I were sitting on the couch. Seth was on one of the arm chairs across from the couch; Samantha on the other.
"Welcome everyone," he said raising his goblet of red wine.
We clinked glasses and I began the discussion with some questions I had prepared.
We were done after about 30 minutes and got down to gossiping.
Nagging me in the back of my mind the whole time was trying to answer the question of why Seth had been so upset when he had opened then door for us. What had happened before?
We had all arrived at his house at the same time, so it couldn't be about one of us, or could it?
I noticed he kept grimacing when he looked at Marge and Bill. Though that could have just been something he ate that day.
I was just about to ask Seth about what had upset him, when Samantha stood up, red in the face.
"Can't breathe," she whispered, clutching her throat.
We sat frozen.
Samantha panted and wheezed and clutched her throat, her eyes wild with fear.
"Someone do something," Seth shrieked.
So much for a helpful host.
Marge is a doctor and she finally jumped up, standing behind Samantha doing the Heimlich maneuver. Marge pushed and pushed but nothing came out.
Samantha was turning blue and she began shaking violently throwing Marge off her. Bill grabbed Marge in time before she hit her head on the coffee table.
Now we all started shrieking, except Marge who had the perfect of a doctor in a crisis.
"Ambulance," she yelled at Seth.
Samantha fell on the floor, her back arching dramatically, her eyes flashing and seeming to want to pop out of her head.
At that he jumped up and grabbed his phone.
Then he turned to us.
"No ambulance," he said calmly. And that calm sent shudders down my spine.
Marge got down on the ground to try and save Samantha, but I think we all knew that it was too late.
"Leave her alone, now," Seth yelled pulling a gun from under the cushion he had been sitting on.
"What the hell are you doing?," I yelled.
"Let her die. I don't care," he replied.
"She's already dead," Marge stated getting up.
"You, you, killed her!" Marge said, running for him.
I grabbed her arm before something worse happened.
"Oh no, one of you killed her," he explained.
"One of us?" Bill yelled.
"Yes, you see I did poison one of your drinks, but not hers. She drank from one of your glasses and died."
We couldn't move.
He looked at Marge, still attached to my hand.
"That Heimlich crap was useless. The poison closed her throat. There was nothing you could have done, doc," he said in a whisper.
I kept following the gun waving in his hand hoping it wouldn't go off.
"Why should we believe you?" I blurted out.
"Well, we all had the same goblets, we all had the same wine so anyone could have switched them, anyone could have planted the poison yes. Maybe I should change my story and say it was one of you who poisoned Samantha."
I was so confused, so hurt, and still shocked.
Then I remembered there was a corpse next to the sofa.
Bill looked like he was about to have a heart attack.
"You bastard, he yelled," lunging for Seth.
I let Marge go and grabbed him.
"He has a gun," I cried between gritted teeth.
Bill stood back, glaring.
"Let me explain, it will be fun," Seth said, indicating the rest of us should take a seat on the couch.
When we were all seated, he sat down as well, still with pistol pointed in our direction.
"We read a mystery for this meeting, as you know, and I thought it would be fun to create a mystery of my own for you to solve. Isn't it delicious?" he cackled.
Geez, the man was clearly deranged. Why hadn't one of us seen it over the years?
I loved mysteries like the rest of them, but solve this?
(aside to reader, in a whisper)
"I know this is happening in a short story. Now how does he think I'm going to solve a murder in a short story? There's no time."
"How are we going to solve this? We need to take fingerprints, interview suspects. Somehow I don't think you would be open to that, would you, Seth?" Marge stated matter-of-factly.
Seth just shrugged.
"And how are we going to test the drinks for poison? None of us are chemists and I doubt you just have a chemistry set lying around, do you?" Bill added stretching toward Seth.
Seth moved the pistol closer to us and Bill leaned back into the couch.
"Well, I didn't say it would be easy, did I?" Seth replied, "Now we are all staying in this room so any facts will be heard by all."
When he said facts he used air quotes.
"OK," I started, "Did you do it?"
Seth shook his head, "I told you one of you three did it."
I glanced at Bill and Marge. It didn't look like any of us actually believed him.
"What was the poison?" Marge asked, throwing the question across the coffee table.
"Strychnine. Rat poison," Seth replied quickly.
Marge shook her head.
"But that can taste bitter. Samantha would have recognized it," Marge explained.
"She obviously didn't in the tart wine I served," Seth said, obviously enjoying himself way too much.
I got up and looked at the glasses on the coffee table. There were 5, all with varying amounts of red wine left. I knelt down to see if any had any powdery residue that might not have been mixed in properly.
On the glass nearest where Samantha was sitting, I found it and was about to reach for it.
"Watch out," Marge yelled, "Don't touch it with your bare hands."
Oh geez, right.
I pulled my sleeve over my hand and picked up the glass.
"Well, there is something in this glass along with the wine," I said showing everyone.
Marge got up and looked at it.
"I told you."
I looked over at Samantha.
Her face was calm, her lips were still blue.
I broke down.
"Please just tell us who did it. I know you must have been watching the glass the whole time to see who moved it toward her."
Seth got up.
"Oh no, you are going to keep going with the questions for awhile. This is fun."
I wanted to scream, but held myself back.
"We've been friends for years. Why are you doing this?" Bill pleaded. The tough guy was apparently gone. He broke down in tears.
"I love playing games. You all know that."
"Well, yes, but this is more than a board game or a card game," I replied.
He waved the gun.
"Come on, you three. I don't have all night. I want to get this corpse off my carpet as soon as possible."
Typical Seth. Worrying about his interior design at a time like this.
My heart was racing. I had to figure this out soon or who knows, we may all get shot.
I sat back to think. Bill and Marge were looking at me. Obviously they thought I would be the one to solve the mystery. Well, I did love puzzles. But a murder?
I closed my eyes to picture where we were all sitting.
Bill was across from Samantha, Marge was next to her. Seth was next to Samantha. If Seth didn't do it, then it was Bill or Marge.
Bill, but why?
And Marge. She is a doctor. And she tried to save Samantha. Why would she want to kill her? It all just made no sense.
Bill got up.
"Screw you. I'm outta here," he yelled striding toward the door.
Seth pointed the gun at him and pulled the trigger.
Bill fell hard on his chest, blood seeping out from under his coat.
I just sat frozen.
My first thought was, well if Bill killed Samantha, then mystery solved. We could just tell the police that he did it. He was dead. No one was going to be able to interrogate him.
I know, evil.
"Stop this now," I screamed.
"No, sit back down," Seth yelled back.
Marge and I held each other on the couch. We were both shaking.
Seth looked at his watch.
"Alright, you both have 10 more minutes," he stated.
We looked at each other.
"10 minutes. I can't solve it in 10 minutes," I replied.
"You have to, please Larry," Marge pleaded.
So much for any help from her.
I sat back again thinking.
If it wasn't me who had poisoned Samantha, it must have been Marge. Or maybe it was Seth after all just playing a game with us.
That got me thinking.
I wondered if it would work.
I got up.
Seth pointed his gun straight at me.
I looked at Samantha lying next to the couch and Bill face down near the front door.
It had to work. I knew I had figured it out. Boy, I hoped I had figured it out.
Then I smiled and yelled "fire."
Sure enough, Samantha and Bill jumped up.
"Happy Birthday" everyone yelled running over to hug me.
What the F?!
"I told you I love games, and you like puzzles. Wasn't it perfect?" Seth asked smiling.
"You scared the hell out of me folks!" I screamed bursting into tears.
Seth patted my shoulder. It felt electric.
Well that got me to stop crying quickly.
I still couldn't believe it.
They were all in on it.
"What acting, I have to say. You both really looked dead," I said to Bill and Samantha.
"It was fun," Samantha said.
That was an evening I would never forget.