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Deal 1003: Race day

At the track, I always bet on the nose. It seems disrespectful to assume that anyone wants to do anything other than win. The race for second is substantially more unpredictable, and never mind at all about the race for third. Not that I won’t occasionally protect my investment with smaller bets. But I only care about the bet to win.

They ran well today, despite the troubles. Something odd was happening out of view of the paying customers. Something hateful and ugly. It had everyone on edge. But on edge is often a good thing, so I doubled my usual investment.

Then they found that vagrant. In two places. It is never a good thing to find parts of an intruder on both sides of the track. That implies that security was way off their game. Or perhaps someone spiked their coffee again. And if someone is spiking the coffee, regulars start to worry about what else might have been spiked, and if it was just slipping a Mickey to security, or if something more serious might be going on.

But that vagrant was found in two pieces. So something a lot sharper than just a little rat poison was involved there.

But the games must go on. I’ve got an investment here, and the house doesn’t like to return bets. Much safer to assume that the situation is under control, that the event was an anomaly, and that things can proceed as usual. A few well placed hints and incentives will keep the gentlemen in blue out of the way, and avoid too many delays.

If they are causing troubles, whisper in the Mayor’s ear, and let him get the guard dogs to back down for an hour or two. It won’t hurt the dead guy too much to wait.

Or perhaps open a window and offer odds on the cause of death?

Nah, that would be more disrespectful than always betting on show.

Finally, they calmed everyone down and readied the main event. My favorite is running in the middle, but with an unfamiliar jockey. And there’s that other shoe that has been waiting to drop. That was no vagrant torn in pieces. That was my investment!

It all went downhill from there.

And now the gentlemen in blue seem to think I might be interesting to talk to too.

I’m gonna need some strong storytelling to get clear of this one.

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Deal 895: Killed seance

“Now is the time for silence, as we join hands and complete the circle.”

Thirteen of us sat close-packed at the table properly sized for ten. The room was large enough, but the usual furniture had all been pushed aside to make room for the table. At the north point sat the medium for the evening. The remaining twelve of us were guests, and our host who sat defiantly at the southern point glaring at the medium.

The medium’s helpers sat around the perimeter of the room. At least, those that admitted to being involved. Earlier they had been busy, shifting furniture, moving in the heavy round table, and other similar arcane tasks.

He arrived to find the room prepared and ready, which was expected since one doesn’t expect an elderly gentleman to move furniture on his own.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is that the room remain silent. No spirit would deign to appear over a disruption.”

There was some murmuring, but by and large we all wanted some answers and had agreed to this measure to get them. So most everyone cooperated willingly. Our host had, naturally, been outvoted and was the only one I expected to cause trouble. But then, we suspected he was behind it all, and had the most to lose.

Regardless, silence fell like a blanket over the room. Some of the helpers took this as their cue to dim the gas lights, leaving only a single candle burning on the table. In its flickering light, the world no longer seemed quite as orderly a place.

It became so quiet that we could hear each other breathing, and the occasional faint pop from the somewhat irregular wax of the candle.

The medium began to whisper an incantation. We all heard the words, but they seemed to slip in our ears and vanish from our ken before they could be understood. We all kept a death grip on the hands to either side. I may come to regret that choice of words, but will let it stand as it reflected how everyone at the table felt.

The murder had surprised all of high society. It was so outré, with the victim clearly the subject of some sort of dark ritual. I had not seen the body or scene aside from the tame pictures that made the papers, but the descriptions from those who had left little to the imagination. They also left a very strong urge to turn back time and not hear those descriptions at all. I don’t think I was considered a suspect, but one never quite knows how the minds of the detective class works.

Our host, on the other hand most certainly was a suspect. I had not been the least surprised to find that the other three suspects named by the papers were also at the table, as were a number of people of similar standing and proximity to the case who had not been named publicly at all, as well as a few I did not recognize at all. I naturally assumed that those were like me, clearly here as a check on the outcome.

The candle flame began to gutter, and then rather unexpectedly given the still air, leaned over and burned like a blow torch aimed across the table.

Directly at me.

I had done nothing.

And yet, here I was, suddenly the object of scrutiny of all of those involved in this case, witnesses, suspects, and detective.

And present in a translucent shade hovering over the table, the victim as well.

All staring at me.

The shade and the candle flame pointing at me.

There was nothing I could do.

They ripped me limb from limb that night, left my still barely living body spread out on that table. My final thought was to wonder who would investigate this murder?

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Deal 738: Mars

Mars is a cold and dry place.

It is also a lonely place, I believe I am now the only living person here.

How did that come about?

Well, it is a story as old as humankind. Even the elite few who made it on to the Mars to Stay mission are still human. No amount of pre-screening prepares you for the realities of multiple years living in each other’s laps between LEO and having a useful shelter dug in on Mars.

It started well enough. The six of us seemed to get along, and our roster was independently picked by several different review boards from the final candidate pool. We were all intelligent and motivated. We were all healthy by every measure available at launch. We were each excited to be on our way. This was planned as a one-way trip, so no doubt we each had our own private reasons for wanting to go. I certainly had a few of my own.

Apparently for some of my companions leaving Earth was not enough relief. The first death was in transit, long after there was any option possible other than reaching Mars and deciding what to do from there. The death was obviously an accident. So obviously that foul play actually became a popular theory, because even an accident can’t be so clean.

Our vision was to be the first permanent settlers, tasked with laying some groundwork for the those that followed. We expected to be alive and well to welcome the first few waves to follow. We have robotic tools along for the back-breaking tasks, of course. But even so, the hardest task would no doubt be simple survival. Until we get the first shelter erected, we will still be living in tight quarters. Quarters made tighter by abandoning our travel bubble in orbit. Inflating it for the transit from LEO to Mars orbit was necessary, but it was not designed to ever be deflated, nor designed to be inflated on the surface.

No, the plan was to find a suitable site near Olympus Mons, with room to dig in an underground facility. Early surveys indicated that there could be cave systems we could adopt, if we can find and clear them.

None of those expectations panned out for most of my companions, and the only jury that matters is still out on my fate. My fate is, in fact, rather murky at this point. Given the five out of six early fatality rate so far, it would seem likely that I’m not going to last much longer. That said, I’m stubborn.

And I’ve lasted this long.

I can last longer.

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Deal 438: Michel helps

Once again I found myself alone in my office on the third floor as a storm raged over the city outside my window. Alone with my thoughts, the white noise of the rain, and with the latest bottle from the cupboard that lately seems never to be empty.

The bottle and I were just getting acquainted when my door opened slowly.

One of these days I’ll remember to hang the closed sign and actually lock it when I’m done with people for the day. Apparently today was not that day. Or maybe I knew I would be wanted.

I looked up.

And then up some more.

The dame standing in the door was not familiar to me, and that made her more intriguing. From where I sat, there was a lot to admire as she made her way through the door and over to my desk and work table.

“Is there room in that bottle for one more?” she asked, her voice matching her body perfectly.

I pondered the question for a moment longer than it required.

“Certainly,” I replied. “Give your legs a rest and I’ll scare up another glass.” At a nod the other chair slid back just enough to meet her hand as shee reached for it. While she was distracted, I pulled a second glass out of my desk drawer and tipped the bottle at it.

She sipped, coughed, then looked closer at the bottle and smiled. Her second sip went down much more neatly.

“I need help,” she began. “My husband—”

“Are you sure you want my help? The P. I. upstairs is usually the right choice for problems that begin this way.” I’m a psychic not a detective, and have fount it better to set expectations early with new clients. I also knew she was in the right place. I am, after all, a psychic.

“My husband,” she began anew, “is dead. Detectives have been all over it. I think they suspect foul play, and the grieving widow is always at the top of their list.” She paused for another sip. “I found him at his desk this morning. He’d stayed up late writing, and never came to bed. I’m still numb, but I know I need help before they have made it impossible. Can you help me?”

“Was this his normal habit?”

“Dying? Hard to make a habit of that!”

“No, staying up late to write.”

“Yes. He was a night owl. But he always came to bed eventually.”

“And as you point out he hardly ever died at it.” She glared. Which was progress. Until this reaction, she was not behaving exactly as one would expect the widow to behave, especially not the widow who had found the body earlier that day. Perhaps I’d taunted her enough. “What was he working on when he died?”

“He writes mysteries, or about mystery, or just mysteriously. He doesn’t share everything he writes with me, and I don’t pester him about it. But I know he finished a big project recently, and has been casting around looking for inspiration for his next. He must have found something, there was a stack of paper nearby, and a page in the machine. And he was just sitting there, slumped across the desk. Dead.”

She sipped her drink again, and again, clearly lost in thought. I let the silence grow. She needed the space, I needed to consider my next move, and I had the feeling that she was still hiding something.

“There was this,” she blurted. “This page was balled up and clutched in his hand.” She pulled a crumpled and torn sheet from her purse.

I took it and smoothed it out on the table between us. It was handwritten, in what looked like brown ink but also could have been blood.

poison typewriter
led author to afterlife
wrote final chapter

“Did the police see this?”

“No. I found it and kept it. They have whatever else he wrote, I didn’t get a chance to look any closer and he was sprawled on it.”

Time for some solid answers. I dug out a Ouija board and dusted it off. Naturally, the planchette had gone to wherever small things go to hide when they are needed, but the board was intact. An empty shot glass would do as a substitute, especially after we got the husband’s attention.

“What was his drink?”

“That is another odd thing. He liked an uncommon single malt with one of those authentic unpronounceable names. In fact, the very thing we’re drinking right now.”

I smiled briefly, I had wondered why the cupboard had coughed up this particular bottle tonight. It does seem to know what I need before I do. I’ll have to investigate how it does it sometime. But now is not the time.

I splashed a little in the shot glass, then lit it on fire with a gesture. (And a match, but allow me my little bits of theatre, it is all part of the process.)

I set the burning glass on the board. I looked up and past my client. “We need some answers. I know you have been listening, and she wouldn’t have been able to find me if you didn’t want her to find out.”

The glass rocked a little, then slid over to the word “Yes”. It paused there, then began to wander around the board, stopping from time to time.

H I E M I L Y S R Y

“How? Wha—” She went silent when it was clearly spelling her name.

Then she blanched. She knew that I knew, and that it was all going to come out.

B U T W H A T D I D Y O U E X P C T M E T O D O

She looked up at me briefly, but couldn’t tear her eyes away from the board.

U K I L D M E

It paused for effect.

P O I S O N

She passed out.

I signaled to the detective that had been waiting and listening from the other room.

“Did you get enough of that?” I asked.

“Yes, I think so.” He calmly put cuffs on her wrists.

“She poisoned him. Her reaction confirms it.”

“Yes.”

“We could ask why.” I knew why, but wondered just how much they knew.

“We already know about the other women.”

“Plural?”

“Yup. One for each city his book tours reach. And at least two here in town that we know of. Should be an interesting funeral once we drop a few names in the news.”

Behind his back, the glass had kept moving. I T W A S N T W H A T I T S E E M E D

“It never is,” I said to the glass, which wandered over to “NO”, then tipped over on “Goodbye”.

“What?” asked the detective.

“I wasn’t talking to you.”

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Deal 220: The mysterious corpse part 1

“Well, Watson, it appears the game is once again afoot.”

I looked up from my book to find my eccentric flatmate had returned. He went on.

“A gentleman of no small repute in his community stands accused of a crime. He was seen by his household staff dressing for breakfast, then by the stable hands taking his horse out. None of this was the least bit unusual, either for the typical country gentleman or for our client. He was seen again just in time to change for dinner. Dinner was a bit of a local event that had been in the works for some time and was attended by a veritable who’s who of the county. All of whom vouch for the gentleman’s attendance at dinner.”

“That hardly seems sufficiently consequential to involve your particular talents,” I said.

He continued, “and yet here in the city, we have an unexplained death of a young lady apparently known to our gentleman, and evidence suggests she died sometime after lunch that same day. She was seen at breakfast, and did nothing out of the ordinary that morning. She left her flat mid-morning, claiming to be going to the shops and expecting to take lunch while out. Her flatmates have little to add beyond her failure to return for dinner. This didn’t cause immediate panic, but her failure to send word that evening, or to be present at breakfast the next morning caused them to call upon authorities.”

I started to ask a question, but he plowed on. I sat back, resigned to let him finish reciting the details so far.

“The authorities did have a body of a young woman that they had not finished identifying. On a hunch, her flatmates were brought to the morgue and they confirmed that this was their friend. Subsequent examination of her purse which was found, unlooted, under her body provided all the confirmation that anyone needed.”

I nodded. While not the sort of conversation held in most flats around town, this was rather conventional for us.

“Interrogation of the flatmates led to classmates, one of which thought he had seen her taking lunch in a cafe, with a gentleman unknown to him, but matching in every detail the appearance of the gentleman as described by multiple impeccable sources. The same gentleman who had both breakfast and dinner at his country estate.”

By this point I was getting interested. This was developing into a potentially interesting case to investigate.

“And therein lies our conundrum. The authorities are discounting their only lead on the premise that the gentleman cannot have been in the remote country at both breakfast and dinner while still managing to murder the young woman at noon. Merely a few years ago, it would be quite impossible for someone to wake up in the country, take lunch in the city, and return to the country in time for dinner. Of course, the rail system had already made that possible for locations up to perhaps sixty miles away. But the new passenger rocket increases that range to several thousand miles.”

Again, I tried to interject, but was prevented.

“The authorities don’t credit the classmate’s testimony. He was apparently a frequent visitor to the flat, ostensibly due to courting one of her flatmates, but everyone in the flat knew his true interest was with the victim.”

“But you do?”

“Yes, he described a particularly ugly cap and scarf that match the cap and scarf the gentleman was last seen wearing. That is the kind of detail that usually is not made up.”

“What do we do next?”

“If you’re up for the adventure, I think we need to visit a few locations in town, then hop the afternoon rocket out to the countryside to have a chat with our possible suspect. Do be sure to bring your revolver, and plan to spend the night.”