At first it seemed like death from natural causes. Marcus Tomby, an investigative reporter, was found slumped over his desk at the Times, victim of a heart attack. And then the security director from the Fordham Arms apartment building came forward.
"Mr. Tomby lived at the Fordham," he told the lieutenant in charge. "He did a lot of dangerous reporting and used to joke about being knocked off some day. When I heard about his death, I reviewed the tape from the security camera in his hallway. Look."
A fuzzy image popped up, showing a red-haired, bearded man leaving the Tomby apartment and pulling closed the door. As he walked towards the camera, he lifted his hand to his face and adjusted his ring. "That's from this morning's tape. Marcus lives alone and that isn't him."
The lieutenant immediately contacted the Times. "Yes, Marcus was on a story," explained the editor. "He suspected Metro Carting of illegally dumping toxic waste. He said he had an inside contact and was preparing a dynamite expose."
At some point during the small party, Hazel got tired of dealing with the guests. They all had drinks in hand and seemed perfectly content. So, the maid wandered up the grand staircase to check on the sleeping children and do a little tidying up.
As soon as Hazel walked into her employer's bedroom, her eagle eyes saw that someone had been there. Taking a towel from her apron, she eradicated the quarter-size water ring from a mahogany table. "How many times do I have to tell Ms. Grant to use a coaster?" she asked the empty air. Seconds later, a breeze from an open French window drew her outside. Young Davey's skateboard was on the balcony, right by the railing edge.
"Someone could trip and fall," Hazel said with another disapproving cluck. Instinctively, she peered over the railing and was startled to see her prophecy fulfilled. Her employer, the Broadway star Indira Grant, lay on the flagstone walk, her beautiful neck broken but her cut-crystal water glass still in one piece in her outstretched hand.
During a storm at sea, millionaire art lover C. Michael Ekshun popped out on the deck of his luxurious yacht. He didn't hear a thing as his killer sneaked up behind him, brandishing a deadly sharp letter opener. Moments after the murder, his body was pushed overboard, disappearing into the swirling foam.
When the skies cleared and the yacht pulled into harbor, police questioned the three surviving passengers: Michael's stylishly dressed wife, Sprinkle Ekshun; his secretary, Morey Fishant; and a shifty-eyed art dealer named Count Yuri Ceets. Each suspect had an alibi.
"I was in the lounge, doing my nails," Sprinkle told them. The widow stuffed her hands into the pockets of her Dior dressing gown. The police immediately noticed a wet patch on her robe front. In the middle of the wet patch was a stubborn red stain that had refused to come out.
"I was in my cabin writing," Count Yuri said as he showed the police a neatly written five-page letter, all in Russian. "To my dear mother, the Countess," he explained. A translation of the letter proved that Yuri had indeed written to his mother—a cleaning lady living in Bensonhurst.
The homicide sergeant glanced around the bedroom. It was a far cry from the obsessive neatness of the rest of the house. There were broken fixtures, scattered furniture, and a crunchy coating of shattered picture glass covering the carpet. "Quite a fight," he muttered. On the bed lay the body of Reece Cutter, a sales rep just returned from a business trip. He'd been stabbed through with an ornamental sword torn down from the bedroom wall.
The victim's brother was contacted at work, halfway across town. Earlier in the day Broderick Cutter had picked Reece up at the airport. "As soon as we got in, Reece went up to his bedroom and unpacked everything. We talked. Then I had to get to work. My shift starts at seven. Reece's wife was coming over later. Marjorie wanted Reece to sign divorce papers, but he kept refusing. I guess she doesn't have to worry about that now."
Charlene Tyner was half-awake when she heard it, coming from downstairs, the sound of spilling coins. She checked the time—2 A.M.—then rolled over and went back to sleep.
In the morning, when Charlene walked into her kitchen, she immediately noticed the theft. The jar in which she kept her collection of silver dollars was completely empty. That's when she recalled the late night sound. And that's when she saw the refrigerator. It was askew, the only thing out of center in the perfectly maintained kitchen.
Charlene knelt down and reached into the narrow space between the refrigerator and the cabinet. "At least they didn't get them all," she thought as she pulled her arm out. Two silver dollars, all that was left of her prized collection. The irate housewife quickly raised the alarm.
Two years ago, the Pretenders' Ball had been the scene of an assassination. Last year, an arsonist destroyed the royal archives. These political crimes, carried out by the rebel forces, were becoming a regular part of the Grand Duchy's annual costume ball. The chief of police pleaded with the prime minister to cancel this year's event. Naturally, he didn't. For added security, though, he did change the location to Duchy Park, a floral wonderland surrounded by a high, unscalable stone wall.
Upon entry, Robin Hood's arrows were confiscated, although he was allowed to keep his bow and quiver. David had to give up his slingshot and Goliath handed over his club. Mary Poppins kept her umbrella, but Death turned in his scythe. Even the clown was searched. One guard held onto his big bunch of balloons while another checked inside his oversized shoes.
The festive nighttime ball went on as scheduled. The music played, the costumed revelers danced, and champagne corks popped. Something else popped, too—a small derringer pistol.
The victim this time was the Grand Duchy's chief of police, dressed as a Chicago gangster, the only guest actually allowed to carry a weapon. His body was found in the middle of a hedge maze, the gun in his shoulder holster untouched.
"Shot in the back," Death (the royal physician) reported. "Very small caliber. Anyone could have sneaked in a gun that size."
In what was becoming another annual tradition, the guests lined up to be frisked.
"All right, Mr. Darden." The Automobile Club operator read back the information. "Your car has a flat. You have a spare, but it's in your trunk and the trunk lock is broken. You're pulled over on Route 5. I'll have a tow truck out to you immediately."
Alex Darden flipped shut his cellular phone and shivered in the night air. Maybe he'd get lucky. Maybe someone would come along before the tow truck arrived.
The tow truck driver found the car easily enough. He saw the flat tire, still on the wheel, and the jack on the ground beside it. Next he saw the blood on the jack, and finally the body. Alex Darden, middle-aged businessman, had been robbed, then bludgeoned to death.
As luck would have it, the highway patrol had been conducting a sobriety check half a mile west of the murder scene. One of the officers had taken down license numbers, and before long, the police were focusing on three motorists who had passed by before the tow truck's arrival.
At 10 A.M. exactly, the gates to the zoo were flung open. A handful of the early visitors headed directly for the penguin house. The kids raced in to get the best view of the glass-enclosed habitat and nearly stumbled over the corpse. It was Cheryl Hammaker, a zoo employee, dressed for work and wearing a plastic feeding apron. She'd been strangled.
The medical examiner took the body's temperature, leading him to estimate that she'd been dead for well over 12 hours. "Makes sense," the zoo director said. "The penguins are fed three times a day: when the handlers get here at eight, then at noon, and finally around six, right after we close." He checked the victim's feeding apron, still filled with small fish.
"That's probably when it happened," a detective agreed as he sniffed, smelling just the faintest fishy odor. "Right before last night's feeding."
Cheryl had been a conscientious worker, arriving early and leaving late. She lived close to the zoo and kept to herself. "I'd just promoted her to department head," the director said. "With her own set of keys. Two other people were up for the job. They got pretty upset."
Star Cars had seemed like a great idea. Beau and Irving Plimpton would translate their passion into a business. The brothers would rent out vintage automobiles to Los Angeles film companies and production houses for background and atmosphere. Beau took care of the contracts and customers while Irving kept the cars in pristine shape, refusing to even drive them on the street.
But the Plimpton boys hadn't had a rental in weeks and were facing bankruptcy. One afternoon, an attendant spotted Beau's sports car driving into the basement garage at Beau's apartment building. An hour later, Beau's live-in girlfriend drove in and found his car occupying her spot. Peering through the dark tinted glass, Pauline could see her fiancé’s hulking silhouette squeezed inside. She opened the driver's door. There, strapped into his safety belt was the body of Beau Plimpton. He'd been shot once in the left temple, the revolver still in his left hand. An apparent suicide.
It was 8:50 P.M. and Jules Marigold was closing up shop. The antique dealer wound all the clocks while his employees tallied up the receipts. When Marigold tried setting the alarm, he was annoyed to find it out of order. "Oh, well," he sighed. "I suppose one night without an alarm won't kill me." He was wrong.
Around midnight, when the Downtown Citizens' Patrol shone their flashlights through the storefront window, they saw a chaotic mess. Lying in the middle of the mess was the bludgeoned body of Jules Marigold.
Marigold lived above his shop. The police theorized that he'd heard a burglar breaking in and that the two men had fought. Among the wreckage was a toppled, broken grandfather clock. The hands had stopped at 11:09. "I guess that sets the time of the murder."
Now it's time for our collaboration with the amazing What Is It? Blog! What is this object in the picture? I don't know! The great thing is that you don't have to know the correct answer to win a t-shirt from the NeatoShop!
Place your guess in the comment section below. One guess per comment, please, though you can enter as many as you'd like. You might know the true answer, but we're going to select two winners who come up with the funniest, most outlandish guesses to win a T-shirt from the NeatoShop. However...
This game is limited to those who haven't won a t-shirt in the last month. Please write your T-shirt selection and the artist who designed it alongside your guess. If you don't include a selection, you forfeit the prize, okay? May we suggest the Science T-Shirt, Funny T-Shirt and Artist-Designed T-Shirts?
Let your imagination run wild! Good luck! You can also challenge yourself with plenty of other mystery items at the What Is It? Blog.
Update: We still haven’t found out exactly what this thing is for, so it is a true mystery. But we had some excellent guesses! Congratulations to ryanduck, who wins a t-shirt from the NeatoShop for this:
Clearly the first prototype of a flat screen TV mount
And to ChrisM 1, who said,
It is a device invented by a parent of two children for ensuring that nobody's piece of anything is bigger than anybody else's.
That makes sense. Thanks to everyone who played along, and a big thanks to the What Is It? Blog!
Last year's Pretenders' Ball had ended in the tragic assassination of the Grand Duke. Despite that disaster, the prime minister insisted on going ahead with this year's festivities. One new concession was made to security. The ball would be held during the day, giving the secret police a clearer view of the proceedings.
A bright, sunny sky greeted the costumed revelers. As usual, they were searched. The rubber daggers piercing Julius Caesar's toga were allowed in, but only after a long argument. The cowboy handed over his plastic six-shooter but got to keep his rope. And Joan of Arc was permitted to keep her stake, as long as she remained firmly tied to it.
Security agents surrounded the new Grand Duke as he mingled with his guests in the festively decorated gardens. The orchestra was in top form and the ball proceeded without a hitch—until fire broke out in the royal archives.
Hey look! It's time for our collaboration with the wonderful What Is It? Blog! Do you know what the object in this picture is? It doesn't really matter if you do, because we are looking for the funniest guesses. You can win a t-shirt from the NeatoShop! But first, read the rules:
Place your guess in the comment section below. One guess per comment, please, though you can enter as many as you'd like. Two winners who submit funny and/or clever (albeit ultimately wrong) answers will each win a T-shirt from the NeatoShop. This week, we are limiting contestants to those who have not already won this month.
Update: These objects are caulks (cleats) for horseshoes, they are used for getting better traction in mud and snow. I should also mention that Skipweasel was not eligible to win this week. He did not know beforehand what the objects are, but he submitted the photo. Thanks!
Congratulations to MEM, who wins a t-shirt from the NeatoShop for this scenario:
These are dice for the now forgotten medieval game of Truth-or-Wedgie. This game was staggeringly popular during the reign of Ethelred the Unready, but the fad ended when people started to realize that the dice nearly always came up 'wedgie.'
And to Soup Fick for this story:
These are the earliest examples of dental implants made by Mo-Larr of Eternia. In Skeletor's youth, he had quite a sweet tooth, but never brushed his teeth, so he would commonly require root canals. Later, as his teeth degraded, he would require implants in order to preserve his bite alignment, jaw bone and beautiful smile. As Mo-Larr's prosthesis making skills improved, Skeletor's implants were upgraded, so that he has the smile we know and love today.
Thanks to everyone who played, and we’ll look forward to another What Is It game, from the What Is It blog and Neatorama!
"The trouble with hypochondriacs is you never know when they're sick." Such were the thoughts running through Ethel Evans's mind as she dialed the two cellular numbers, one for Dr. Mills and the other for her brother, Bertie. "Come immediately," she told them both. "Daddy just took a turn for the worse." The hypochondriac in question, J. P. Evans, began the morning feeling well. Dr. Mills had been there for his daily examination, leaving the usual row of pills at JP's bedside. Bertie fed his father breakfast, then left for his regular day at the horse track. At 11 A.M. Ethel fed JP the first batch of pills. It was shortly after that when he began gasping for air and Ethel made her calls.
Ethel hung up and listened to the wail of a freighter as it chugged by. That was the problem with living on a residential island. Even though they were connected to the rest of the city by a drawbridge, there were times when she felt so isolated.
It's Thursday, so you know what it means, Neatoramanauts: it's time for the What Is It? Game, brought to you by the always amusing What Is It? Blog. What is the object in the picture above? Your guess can win you a free T-shirt of your choice from the NeatoShop. Here's how to play:
Place your guess in the comment section below. One guess per comment, but you can enter as many guesses as you'd like in separate comments.
You might know the correct answer, but if you want to win a t-shirt, you'll have to use your imagination, because we are going to select two winners who give us the funniest incorrect guesses. If you guess right, then good for ya - but you don't win anything, see? So, it's up to you, funny people: you have twice the chance of winning that T-shirt now.
Please write your T-shirt selection alongside your guess. If you don't include a selection, you forfeit the prize. We highly suggest you take a look at the NeatoShop's new selection of Funny T-shirts and Science T-Shirts.
Update: This is truly a mystery item, obviously a tool, but we still don’t know what it’s for. We had some good suggestions, though. A T-shirt from the NeatoShop goes to Edward for this answer:
It was left behind at Comic-Con by someone coplaying a mashup of Thor and Cupid (Thtupid?)
The name “Thtupid” clinched that one for him. Another shirt goes to Berhard, who went into detail about the tool’s alternative versions:
This is without doubt Thor's fisching hammer, "Troutnir" ... a very light version for nordic god trout fisching...
It throws like a hammer, hits like a harpoon and returns like a boomerang...
slightly less romantic than trout fisching in "A river runs through it" but way more effective..
Thor also has a "sharknir", a "tunir" and a "merlinir" for offshore-fisching...
The only reason it only has a limited success at market resides in that you have to be a nordic god to be able to properly operate this supreme fisching gear...
Congratulations to both! This just goes to show that you guys are pun factories when you have the slightest bit of inspiration. We’ll do it again next week, with another What Is It? game from the What Is It? blog and Neatorama.
Valerie stretched her six-foot frame to the top shelf, looking for a hiding place. Taking down an old cookie jar, she slipped in the roll of hundred-dollar bills, then lifted it back up to its spot above the kitchen cabinets. Valerie flipped aside a lock of golden hair. It was a shame to have to hide things in her own house, but with this bunch of sorry losers visiting for the weekend, it was better safe than—well—sorry.
It was a horrible thing to think about her best friend. Sometimes she didn't know what she saw in Glenda. Glenda was strikingly homely, dumpy, and of dubious moral character. But she seemed to admire Valerie and made her laugh.
It was even worse to think about her own twin brother, but Valerie had to be honest. Ever since childhood, Victor had regularly stolen from any purse that happened to be lying around.
The third guest, Morton Flyer, had been a basketball star in the NBA. Caught red-handed in a betting scandal, Morton had been thrown out of the sport. He and Victor were now best buddies sharing their mutual hobbies of gambling and drinking.
Hey, y'all, it's time for another contest collaboration with the excellent What Is It? blog. Can you guess what this weird item is? This week, we are looking for funny and clever answers, not the correct one, but if you guess correctly, you'll win our undying respect. If you have one of the two funniest answers, you'll win a T-Shirt from the NeatoShop!
Place your guess in the comment section. One guess per comment, though you can enter as many guesses as you'd like. You have until the answer is revealed on the What Is It? Blog tomorrow.
You must give us your prize selection alongside your guess in order to win a shirt, so visit the NeatoShop and take a look around. If you don't write your prize selection, then you won't get the prize. I think you'll like the selection of funny t-shirts and science t-shirts -or even t-shirts of your favorite blogs and websites.
So let your imagination run wild! Oh yeah, you'll find another clue or two about this picture at the What Is It? blog. Good luck!
Update: When this item was posted at the What Is It blog, it was made clear that no one knew for sure what it is. But here’s a “maybe” answer:
This was found in a part of town that used to have an amusement park, so it was probably a part of a ride or sign.
Which is interesting, but not nearly as much fun as the guesses y’all came up with! We have a T-shirt from the NeatoShop for Hipshot, who had a great story to tell.
When I was a kid, my brother and I fought incessantly over who got the biggest slice of my mother’s delicious pie. One night at dinner, Momma had enough! She told my father she was not baking another pie until he solved this problem. The next day, Dad (who LOVED his pie) brought home this device. He was an engineer at NASA. During his (pie-less) lunch, he created this Exquisitely Accurate Pie Slicing Instrument: the EAPSI (pronounced “eep-see”). When placed over the entire pie and properly calibrated, EAPSI measures each slice down to a single micron. My brother and I no longer fight about who got the biggest slice. Now, we fight over who gets to operate EAPSI!
And another goes to sandyra, for this:
OMG! It's my really old chastity belt because I am really old. Does anyone know where the key is? Please?!?
Thanks for all the great guesses! We’ll do it again as long as the What is It blog gives us more mystery items.
The newspapers dubbed him that, the nutty strangler, although there was nothing funny about him. Five times he'd struck, each time leaving nut shells—piles of nut shells. On the first occasion the body of a businessman was found in an alley. The police barely noticed the walnut shells among the midtown litter.
The second time it was a suburban housewife and peanut shells. On the third strangulation (a secretary and pecans) the homicide squad started looking at photos of the previous cases. That's when they made the connection.
"Maybe he likes nuts," a rookie suggested. "Maybe cracking shells calms this psycho down while he waits for the right victim to come by."
On the sixth murder, the police caught a break. It was late. Four officers were just coming off their shift when they heard a strangled scream. They arrived too late to save the young college student. But one glance at the piles of red pistachio shells told them who they were dealing with. The officers fanned out, detaining the only three men they could find in the surrounding streets.
Hey look! It's time to play a game, from Neatorama and the wonderful What Is It? Blog, back for a limited time. Do you know what the object in this picture is? It doesn't really matter if you do, because we are looking for the funniest guesses. You can win a t-shirt from the NeatoShop! But first, read the rules:
Place your guess in the comment section below. One guess per comment, please, though you can enter as many as you'd like. Two winners who submit funny and/or clever (albeit ultimately wrong) answers will each win a T-shirt from the NeatoShop.
If you guess the correct answer, you'll get a big pat on the back.
Check out more pictures of this thing, and other mystery items, too, at the What Is It? Blog. Good luck!
Update: This is a true mystery item, and we still don't know what it is. But that doesn't stop us from giving t-shirts away! One goes to David Gunn, for this strange guess:
This is a second generation mediaeval leg shaving device, known as a Limb-Defluffer Duo created by Benedict Tinklebottom, the Fifth Earl of Giblet. Despite being the improved second generation device, it was found to be completely unusable for its original purpose (unless the user had particularly slender legs, a loving staff of at least 4). However Tinklebottom found fame when the Limb-Defluffer Duo was adopted for use as an “inquisitorial encouragement” device by the Spanish Catholic church, and ultimately learned how effective it was in its revised role when he was Defluffer Duo’ed to death for sins against personal grooming.
And another goes to Lucas Gentry, for a guess that made a little sense (not much):
This is actually the precursor to movable scissors. You place the object that you want to slice into the V's of this tool. The closer you got to the center of the V, the more were cut. It worked fantastically for carrots, cigars, and fingers, but it was terrible at cutting paper.
Thansk to everyone who played along! We'll do it again, as long as we have more mystery items at the What Is It? blog!
The air in Prairie Flats had been calm all morning. But by noon the wind had whipped up out of the east, and just a half-hour later a small, rainless tornado was pummeling the farming community, its funnel leaving behind a path of destruction and at least one fatality.
The body of Allie Brinker was found lying in a ditch. There was a gash in the young woman's forehead and a trickle of blood that had fallen in neat round drops onto the ground. Not far away, a broken, bloodied fence post led the police to an obvious conclusion. The wind had torn up the post and sent it flying into her head.
"I blame myself," Allie's Uncle Nate told the neighbors. "She was at my place, playing with her one-year-old niece. Just as the wind was picking up, Allie decided to run back home across the fields. I told her to stay. The radio was warning of twisters. I should have stopped her."
Our friend Rob of the What Is It? Blog has been traveling, but he's back for a limited time, with more mystery items!
What is this thing in the picture? Your guess can win you a free T-shirt of your choice from the NeatoShop! Here's how to play:
Place your guess in the comment section below. One guess per comment, but you can enter as many guesses as you'd like in separate comments. You have until tomorrow afternoon to enter.
You might know what it is, but if you want to win a t-shirt, you'll have to use your imagination, because we are going to select two winners who give us the funniest incorrect guesses. If you guess right, then good for ya - but you don't win anything, okay? So, it's up to you, creative people: you have twice the chance of winning that T-shirt.
Please write your T-shirt selection alongside your guess. If you don't include a selection, you forfeit the prize. We highly suggest you take a look at the NeatoShop's new selection of Funny T-shirts and Science T-Shirts.
Update: This item is, indeed, a Morris scissor bench plane, or plow plane. You can see the patent application at the What Is It? blog. Several of you knew that, but as we said, we are giving away T-shirts from the NeatoShop for the funniest answers.
A t-shirt goes to canyourepeatthequestion for this gem:
Although incorrectly displayed laying on its side, it is still easily recognizable as a scissor lift for squirrels performing bird feeder "Maintenance". What appears to be a curved wooden handle is in fact the lateral stabilizer, stylized to resemble a squirrel's tail in the style of famed rodent lift designer Sir UpseeDaisy J Nutter. At auction, I would expect this piece to fetch at least three or four hundred acorns.
and to Berhard for his pun:
It is one of the classic "phrase causes": If you worked with this pane-tool and placed on a chair and you forget about it... and you later sit down on exactly this chair, you instantly become aware that this tool is the reason for the phrase "pane in the ass"...
Thanks to everyone for playing along! We’ll do it again next week, for a limited run as long as Rob has items to identify at the What Is It? blog.
Stan Rogers winced at the flesh wound in his left shoulder, feeling lucky to be alive. "My partner and I were delivering a payroll to the logging camp," he told the officers at his hospital bedside. "It was late at night when the car broke down. I pulled over. Benny got out but I stayed inside. Those are the rules.
"A minute later, a passing motorist stopped to help. Benny and this guy checked the engine, fiddling with the connections. A couple times it almost started. I couldn't see their faces because they were standing right in front and the headlights were slung low. But I saw when the guy pulled the gun from his jacket.
"He shot Benny in the chest, just like that. Benny stumbled off to the side and collapsed. The guy came around to the driver's side. Me, I kept trying to start the engine. He must have known about the payroll 'cause he opened the rear door and grabbed it right off the backseat. He slammed the door and was coming up to me when the engine finally turned over. I slipped it in gear just as he got a shot off." Stan winced again. "Gee, if I hadn't run into you guys I might've fainted or bled to death."
The highway patrol brought in two lone motorists whose cars fit the description Stan had given of the killer's vehicle. Neither suspect had the payroll bag, and the murder weapon was found back at the scene, wiped clean of prints. The only hope for an arrest lay in Stan's memory.
Miranda Rich could hardly wait to move into her new house. In fact, a trio of workmen were still making their final repairs and installations on that April morning when Miranda brought over her expensive entertainment system and stacked it in a corner of the living room.
The next day, Miranda arrived to find the electronic unit gone. The only thing left behind was a strip of black plastic tape the burglar had used to hold open the latch of the rear kitchen door.
"Looks like a crime of opportunity," the officer from the burglary unit told her. 'All three workmen were here and saw the system. All three of them heard you on the telephone, setting up a dinner date for last night. Knowing the house would be empty, one of them simply taped open the latch and came back later."
No fingerprints had been left behind, and the officer didn't hold out much hope. But he interviewed the suspects anyway, hoping two of them would have ironclad alibis.
Morton was a bad influence. So was Archie. And that's probably why they were such good friends. The two playboys had simultaneously squandered their trust funds and now were facing the consequences. "I suppose I'll have to start selling things," Morton said with a shiver. He had just arrived home from a night on the town. "Want to come in for a drink, old man?"
Never one to say no, Archie followed his friend inside. Morton's trusted valet, Gene, was there to pour their drinks and watch as his employer removed his diamond cufflinks and tossed them into an empty vase in the library.
Archie stayed for one drink, complained about his own financial straits, then headed out into the damp night air. Morton exited the house a minute later, taking his German shepherd for a walk that they both felt they could use.
It was only a short while later when a police squad car passed by on a routine patrol and spotted a suspicious-looking character on the terrace.
The lawyer glanced from his client to the three greedy young faces across the room. "You're sure you want to do this?"
"Of course," Derwood Dewdit replied. "I have no children. It's only right that my niece and nephews inherit my estate."
"That won't be for many, many years," Asa Dewdit said. His sister Bebe agreed as did brother Cecil. They watched, fascinated, as Uncle Derwood signed his new will.
Nothing happened until late afternoon. The lawyer was browsing through the books in the third-floor library when he heard Derwood's voice raised in a blood-curdling scream. For a few seconds, he sat in shock. Then he bounded down the stairs.
Mrs. Emery was disappointed. She had assumed that dealers at a gem exposition would know how to dress. But the room was filled with fashion mistakes. Rodney Dipp from Boston had on a polyester shirt; not the good, new kind of polyester, but something left over from the seventies. Julia Kidd from Atlanta wore sneakers and something resembling an upscale jogging suit. Even Klaus Braun from Diisseldorf, usually known for his style, was wearing one brown sock and one blue sock.
"Well, at least I'm maintaining my standards," Mrs. Emery huffed as she laid out her unmounted gems.
The display was not as impressive as it had been in years past. The only great gem she had left for sale was an exquisite emerald. She did her best, nestling the brilliant stone in an arrangement of loose gems—aquamarines, sapphires of poor color, lowly garnets, and a few bloodstones—hoping that the emerald's luster might somehow reflect into the lesser stones.
The theft took place during a diversion. A minor but noisy traffic accident drew the crowd out onto the street. When the insatiably curious Mrs. Emery returned to her display table, she found it all gone—everything from the almost worthless garnets up to the most prized gem at the show, her beloved emerald.
"The thief obviously had an accomplice," the police captain told the robbed gem dealer. "Someone who staged the diversion. Unfortunately, we don't know who that was. But we do have this."
The homicide officers tromped through the morning mud to the main tent of the Big Top Circus. The ringmaster was waiting. He led them around to the rear and pointed to the stacked bags of elephant chow just outside the tent flaps. When the officers peered over the top, they saw Aeriel Cummings lying facedown in the mud.
Aeriel was in her circus costume, loosely covered in a robe. Even from this distance, the officers could see the welts around her neck. The hand marks were clear on her pale skin, the outline of two thumbs pointing down toward her bare shoulders.
"Strangled," the ringmaster explained needlessly. "It poured heavy last night, starting around 2 a.m. This morning I checked for rain damage. That's when I found her. Aeriel is our star acrobat. She does a balancing act with her partner, Rudolph."
Before approaching the body, the officers checked the wet ground and saw prints of the ringmaster's pointy boots all around the body. The only other footprints were a huge set, at least a size 20, just outside the bags of elephant chow. "We'll need to talk to your clowns."
Dahlia shuffled the deck, making the bracelet of coins tinkle on her right wrist. Dealing out the first card, she smiled. "You had good luck," she said, pointing to the Queen of Cups.
Marco patted his leather purse. It looked heavy with coins. "I had a good morning at the fair. No one sells like a Gypsy."
It was a tranquil afternoon as they sat around the embers of a fire in their small encampment. The sound of horse hooves and jangling spurs announced the arrival of Renard. Seconds later, Carmen's earrings, as melodious as wind chimes and almost as large, told them that their fourth friend had also returned.
The tiny Gypsy tribe exchanged tales of their morning escapades. Dahlia had told fortunes at the fair. Carmen had begged on a street corner. Renard had traded horses with local farmers. But the only lucky one was Marco, who had sold copper pots to housewives and made an enviable profit.
Sergeant Vacca had been on the homicide squad for eight years and had never once run into a deathbed clue. Not once had he heard a dying man blurt out the name of his killer or seen him grab at his St. Christopher medal in order to incriminate a suspect named Chris. Even though he was a devout mystery fan, Sergeant Vacca had begun to seriously doubt that such things ever really happened. Until now. His captain was still skeptical. "Who says this is a deathbed clue? Looks like a bunch of gibberish." The gibberish consisted of two words typed on a computer screen.
The police had found Maria Consuela alone in her downtown office cubicle. The attractive legal secretary had stayed late to finish typing up a brief and had been rewarded with a blunt object to the head and ribs. There was no sign of forced entry and little sign of struggle—an indication that she had known her attacker.
A pool of blood trailed away from the cubicle's doorway and ended in Maria's collapsed body, right under the edge of her desk. "It must have taken her last ounce of strength to crawl over here," Sergeant Vacca theorized. "She must have had some reason."
A lot of towns have their neighborhood bullies. But few neighborhood bullies were as hated as Pete Weider of Cozy Heights and, luckily for the crime statistics, even fewer wound up like Peter.
A passing patrol car heard the screams and responded immediately. They found the burly corpse in his own backyard, with multiple stab wounds. There were signs of a struggle, and blood was everywhere around the fenced-in yard. The officers immediately went to question the neighbors and were surprised to discover that not a single one had heard or seen a thing.
"They're lying, of course," the homicide captain said when he heard the news. At least three men on the block had been outside when the murder occurred and the captain insisted on talking to them as soon as possible.
Blake Fromm had just finished painting his porch when the captain approached. A young, genial man, Blake wiped his hands on his nearly spotless jeans before shaking hands. The captain immediately noticed the cassette player on Blake's belt and the earphones draped around his neck. 'I've been outside all morning. The porch ceiling took forever. Pete lives two doors away. I really didn't hear or see anything," he added apologetically.
Nelson Olson had been in his garden, right next door to the victim's yard. "I was in and out of the house. Weeding. Planting bulbs for the fall." There was dirt on his hands and under his nails. "Inside, I had the air conditioner cranked up. It all must have happened when I was indoors. Sorry."
Kenny Kitchner's story was even less plausible. "I was on a ladder, washing my windows," the paunchy, middle-aged man admitted. His T-shirt was still wet. The captain could see that Kenny's yard overlooked the victim's. "I never looked over into Pete Weider's yard, nor did I hear anything. I had other things on my mind."