“Who are we murdering?”
Conversation halted. The circle of friends wheeled from the fire to eye the stranger. She stood tall in high-heel boots slick as oil in sunlight. She sported a midnight trench unbuttoned to reveal a red-knit dress that snugly, and barely, covered her gender. Lengthy tresses of deep scarlet rolled and flowed as if caught in a light breeze.
“That’s if I heard correctly,” the stranger said.
“I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure,” Mrs. MacGruder said.
A crisp flick materialized a card between the stranger’s second and third fingers. “You have not.”
Mrs. MacGruder reached for the card like grasping for a razor blade. “Dam—Dam—”
Malcolm Lafferty said, “Sounds Italian, eh?”
“Does it? A rich, old name. Been in my family forever.”
“Yes? Very good.”
“You might say for eternity.”
Mrs. MacGruder peered over her glasses.
“Forgive the intrusion, Mrs. MacGruder. As I passed, the sounds of your party entreated me and I let myself in. So many delightful souls in your charming house. Many would die to live in a house such as this.”
Mrs. Sidwich said, “That’s an oxymoron, you have.”
“Then I overheard your tiny group. I never miss a murder.”
“Oh, that.” Mrs. MacGruder leered at Damfino. “Quite nothing.”
“Let us be frank,” Mrs. Sidwich said. “Mr. MacGruder, Dorothy dear’s poor hubby, once again retired early with a migraine.”
“Beastly things,” Mr. Lafferty said.
“As four of his closest friends,” Mrs. Sidwich nodded, “we felt compelled to put the old poke out of his misery.”
“How lucky he is to have all of you,” Damfino said. “You must be the Sidwich’s, Lucille and Philip. And of course the Lafferty’s, Rose and Malcolm.”
Mrs. MacGruder again glanced over the rims of her spectacles. “How did you—?”
“You wish to perform a mercy,” Damfino said.
“Quite. Like having your head in a vice,” Mr. Sidwich said.
“Mulches the brains,” Mr. Lafferty nodded.
“But we must have rules,” Mrs. Lafferty said.
“Ah,” Damfino raised a long finger to her lips.
Mrs. MacGruder offered, “Please, do sit.”
Damfino lowered herself to a cream ottoman.
“You may only use what’s in the bedroom,” Mrs. Lafferty said. “Strictly nothing allowed from outside.”
“Rather cramps one’s style,” Mr. Lafferty said.
“Come off it, Lafferty,” Mr. Sidwich said. “Where’s your spirit?”
“The adventure,” Damfino said. “That excites, doesn’t it?” She petted Mr. Sidwich’s leg like a lap cat.
“I suppose,” Mr. Lafferty said, “that I could prod him to death with a credit card, eh? That could take some time, you know.”
“Don’t be an ass, Malcolm,” Mrs. Lafferty said.
“Well,” Mr. Lafferty said, “I don’t suppose they regrind the carving knives in the bedroom, dear.”
“Hardly,” Mrs. MacGruder said.
“But you have pillows,” Mrs. Sidwich said. “We could suffocate him.”
“You’d have to overpower him,” Mr. Sidwich said. “Angus is long on bulk.”
“Same applies to stringing him up,” Mr. Lafferty said. “Plenty of sheets and whatnot, I take it. Or you could hoist him over the balcony and plunk him on his head—crack! Like a soft-boiled egg. No, I don’t believe Angus would stand for any of that.”
“We could stove in his head with the telly,” Mrs. Sidwich said.
“That’s one good use for the bloody thing,” Mrs. MacGruder said.
“Dorothy, dear,” Mrs. Lafferty said, “does your boudoir display any blunt instruments? A candelabra, perhaps? A statuette?”
“There’s rather a sizable planter on the balcony, Rose, with Angus’s hideous bastard cobas. I suppose two of us might be able to raise it.”
“There you are Dorothy,” Mr. Lafferty said. “Crown him a good one. And if the whacking doesn’t do the trick, we could always bury his head in the dirt.”
“Balls!” said Damfino.
“The devil you say,” Mrs. Sidwich said.
Damfino arched her eyebrows. “Too much effort. There are better ways to raise a sweat.”
“I beg your pardon?” Mrs. MacGruder said.
“I’d like to see for myself,” Damfino said. “If you don’t mind?”
“Splendid,” Mrs. Sidwich said.
Mrs. MacGruder’s mouth popped like a guppy’s. She brought her hands to her bosom. “Well, well—”
Damfino stood and swung round. The friends rose in unison.
Mrs. Sidwich tittered, “Now we’re getting somewhere, Dorothy.”
The five followed Damfino’s long strides from the living room to the great hall. Damfino breezed ahead, up the main staircase to the second floor, out of sight.
Mrs. Sidwich called after her, “Only what you find in the room, love.”
Mrs. Lafferty whispered, “Dorothy, how does she know?”
Mrs. Sidwich called again, “No cheating.”
The friends scurried up the steps and reached the landing as the bedroom door shut fast. They scooted along the thick runner and tried to find a spot to lay an ear. They made a peculiar sight, frozen in place, affixed to the door as if held by some great magnet.
Mr. Lafferty said quietly, “I don’t—”
“Shh,” Mrs. Lafferty elbowed him.
After a minute’s silence, they leaned away from the door.
“I don’t hear a damn thing,” Mr. Sidwich said.
Mrs. Sidwich smiled, “What do you suppose she’s doing?”
“Whatever it is,” Mrs. MacGruder said, “She’s had—”
A muffled explosion erupted from behind the door. The sound expressed sharp crack, a weighted thud. The party shared a stunned moment, then they squeezed through the door, led my Mrs. MacGruder.
The room lay in darkness except for the moonlight filtering through the transparent drapery. The silver rays glistened on two pillow feathers caught in the fiery strands of Damfino’s hair. The soft, white glow outlined her body straddling a still figure below the sheets. In one hand she held a long revolver. Its barrel pointed at a darkened hole in the pillow. Rays from the moon shone through wisps of smoke that rose from the hole like curls of steam. Beneath the pillow, a deep stain spread its way into the mattress.
Mrs. MacGruder staggered back. Her arms flailed out for support. “Ohh,” she moaned, and again, “Ohh.”
“Why so shocked, Mrs. MacGruder?” Damfino said. “Didn’t you know your husband kept a pistol?”
“Who are we murdering?”