Authors: T'Gracie Reese,Joe Reese
The last sentence exhausted her supply of breath.
The writers jammed in the doorway were scribbling notes.
James Thompson was staring, open-mouthed.
Margot had stuck her head between her knees and was laughing convulsively.
“Be quiet, Margot,” muttered Nina.
But Margot only shook her head and continued to guffaw in restrained gasps and sobs.
Finally, she regained sufficient self-control to ask:
“But Nina was with me for the entire morning. We watched the first business session together.”
Another shake of the woman’s head:
“Now, now. It’s touching, Ms. Gavin, but it simply won’t do.”
“What won’t do?” asked Margot.
“Ms. Bannister is your friend, is she not?”
“Could we not even say, your best friend?”
“Yes,” answered Margot.
“Until now,” whispered Nina.
Margot ignored this.
Rebeccah Thornwhipple leaned forward and whispered:
“Then isn’t it time you stopped lying for her?”
Margot could only shake her head:
But she was interrupted:
“Everyone else in the room was worried about the meeting! No one was watching you and your desperately lovesick friend here! No one noticed when she slipped away. No one noticed her hour’s absence, or the fact that she was covered with sweat when she returned.”
James Thompson shook his head and said:
“Ms. Thornwhipple, it’s an interesting theory, and, of course, we’ll look into it.”
“You’re going to arrest her, aren’t you?”
“We’ll certainly keep close tabs on her.”
“I would think so. And remember, I’m copywriting this plot.”
“It’s all yours, ma’am. I can promise you that no one in my department is going to submit it for publication.”
“See that you do not.”
“Yes, ma’am. But now if you don’t mind––”
“I know. There are others who have theories. But just remember what I’ve said, and always remember P. D. James’ immortal words:
‘Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’”
“It’s Sherlock Holmes,” said Nina.
Rebeccah Thornwhipple rose, took two steps toward the door, and smiled down at her:
“Don’t be angry at me, dear. And do confess. You’ll feel much better in the long run.”
As she entered the doorway she was mobbed by other cozy writers, who embraced her and congratulated her:
“NICE PLOT DEVICES!”
“CAN I USE THAT?”
After a time, James Thompson said to Harriet Crossman:
“Are they all like that?”
“I don’t know.”
“All right then, Ms. Crossman. I’ll listen to these people, because it’s my job to do so. But please tell them:
if they have a theory of the crime, it needs to be based on hard, practical, believable evidence. Will you do that?”
Harriet Crossman went and spoke with the cozy writers who were standing patiently in line, some already finishing the novels they’d begun little more than two hours before.
She re-entered the room and said:
“They understand. Cold, hard logic.”
“All right. Who’s next?”
“These two ladies.”
The Smathers sisters, Ruby and Lacy, entered the room.
“The killing,” they began, “was done by a demon. He entered our dimension through a psychic rift in the cosmos which occurred when the ghost of Sarah Morgan returned to––”
James Thompson said nothing.
He merely rose, heaved a sigh, and left the room.
WITNESSES’ ACCOUNTS, AND AN INTERLUDE WITH RED WINE
Nina was not booked for the brutal murder of Garth Amboise.
She was, however, invited to share the findings of Police Chief James Thompson concerning the psychological status of Molly Badger.
This conversation happened in the library where the HBO interviews between Sylvia Duncan and all interested cozy writers had been taking place during the day.
The interviews being over now, the small and intimate library was free.
The three of them—Margot, Nina, and Thompson—sat in green leather chairs, all contact with the outside world blocked by thick curtains.
Still, if the outside world was not visible, it was certainly audible, because the storm had arrived in earnest now, with driving rain and howling wind pounding on the Candles’ walls.
“I want to apologize to both of you ladies for walking out on that group of people this afternoon.”
“And I want to apologize to you,” Nina said, “to you both actually, for murdering Mr. Amboise.”
It was the first time she’d seen James Thompson smile.
“Don’t give it another thought. I’m sure you were upset.”
“At least we know,” said Margot, “that it wasn’t a demon. Although, Nina, you can be kind of demon-like at times.”
“I can take all of that palaver. But when those two women started on about demons––”
Margot merely nodded:
“We heard the same story a little earlier in the day.”
“I’ll go back—I’ll listen to all of them, because they’re potential witnesses, and I’ve got to hear them out. But I have to take a little rest, I really do.”
They merely sat for a time as the storm grew louder, and the entire house, despite its size, seemed to be shaking.
“I don’t like all these people being holed up out here like this,” said Officer Thompson. “I’d feel a lot better if they were all in town.”
“They won’t go, though,” said Margot
And that was true.
So there was really nothing to do
Thompson finally continued:
“Since the two of you are already involved in this, I thought the least I could do was keep you informed on what we’ve learned.”
“Thank you,” said Nina, quietly. “We appreciate it.”
“We were able to get someone from the city hospital to go out and talk to Ms. Badger at the motel. He’s not exactly a registered psychologist, but he does have some credentials along those lines. We’ve used him several times in the past to get his feelings on whether someone is actually mentally ill or not, especially in cases where we feel the suspect might be a danger to self or loved ones.”
“So what,” asked Margot, “did this man think?”
A shake of the head:
“Well, before I get into that, I should let you know what we’ve dug up concerning her background. She’s a genius, in a way. Great grades in college, especially in science courses. She worked for some years at a major communications corporation. But she was let go.”
“Why?” asked Nina.
“We haven’t been able to find out. The records are not clear. It may be the corporation just wanted to put the whole thing behind them.”
“What whole thing?”
“Again, hard to say. But when an employee needs to be let go, well, sometimes there’s no more than an amicable parting of the ways. Maybe an under the table final settlement. No risk of a lawsuit that way.”
“All right. So she was let go,” said Margot, “and we don’t know why. Is she crazy?”
“All of these people seem crazy, as far as I can tell. But she apparently had a nice, lucid conversation with our man. When the subject of the murder came up, she refused to discuss it, saying it was not ‘the proper time.’ Otherwise, she seems quite calm, and he feels she’s at no risk to hurt herself. Nor does she seem anxious to leave town.”
“You don’t think you should arrest her?”
A shake of the head:
“I can’t see doing it. She’s admitted to a crime she couldn’t possibly have committed. Her version of things is no wackier than the Thornwhipple woman’s, and we aren’t going to arrest her. Or you because of her. No, I just want this damned storm to pass. Then I want to have a complete battery of lab tests done. Then I want these damned people out of here. Well, I’ve got to go now. I’ll try to keep you apprised as to what’s going on.”
“Thank you, officer,” they both answered as one.
And so James Thompson left the room, returning to his duties of hearing confessions, or at least alternative theories of the case.
He was replaced almost immediately, however, by a weary-looking Sylvia Duncan, who entered and said:
“I’m sorry to disturb the two of you. I’d just left a few of my notes over there on the desk. If I can get them, I’ll get out of your way.”
“That’s all right,” said Margot, gesturing toward the chair vacated by the officer. “Sit down, and join us.”
“I don’t want to be in the way.”
“You’re not in the way. In fact…wait a minute. I have an idea. Let me go get some things.”
Margot rose and crossed the small library, while Sylvia Duncan sat and smiled at Nina.
“Ms. Bannister, we haven’t really had a chance to talk.”
“No, you’ve been busy.”
“And so have you, murdering that man.”
“So you’ve heard about that.”
“Of course. In fact, Ms. Thornwhipple pitched it as her series proposal.”
“Wow. Who’s going to play me?”
Sylvia Duncan smiled:
“I don’t know. Maybe Jennifer Anniston.”
“In her dreams.”
“Yes, you may be right. At any rate, I was very excited once I learned that you were here.”
“Yes, I’m a great fan of yours. I was and am a great supporter of the Lissie movement.”
“Oh! Well, sometimes all of that, Washington and the rest—it seems like another world. I can’t believe it all happened to me.”
“But it did. And we have a good many new women in Congress because of it.”
She was interrupted by Margot, who was re-entering the library with a bottle of wine in one hand and a small black box in the other.
“We’re three hard-working women, and we’ve had a tough day. And we deserve these things.”
“What have you got there?”
“A bottle of Chateau Margaux ’86. Not really named after me, but close enough. If you’ll reach into the cabinet drawer behind you, you’ll find glasses.
Nina did, and did.
The glasses were distributed around the table. Margot had already uncorked the bottle, and so nothing remained except to pour the dark red liquid.
“Well, this is a treat!” said Sylvia. “What shall we drink to?”
“Not so fast,” interrupted Margot, pointing to the small box, which she’d laid on the table.
“There’s more. If we’re going to be bad, why not be really bad?”
She opened the box, which revealed a dozen or so cigarettes.
“Oh, my God,” said Sylvia, giving a small shriek.
“I haven’t smoked in two weeks,” said Margot.
“And I,” added Sylvia, “in a year!”
“And I never,” said Nina.
“Well, we’re not going to make a smoker of you, Nina. But you, Sylvia––”
“Oh, yes, yes, after today, definitely yes!”
And so the two women lit up, joyfully, conspiratorially, and blew out thick clouds of smoke which hung in the dark air of the library.
Then they all held the glasses of wine out over the table, while Margot asked:
“Now, what shall we drink to?”
Sylvia answered immediately:
“The end of the damned interviews!”
Both responded simultaneously:
“THE END OF THE INTERVIEWS!”
And they drank.
After which Margot asked:
“Were they really that bad?”
Sylvia shook her head:
“They weren’t really that awful. They just all seemed to run together after a while. If I hear about one more quaint New England village or one more clever librarian––”
“I know,” said Margot. “There does seem to be quite a lot of that floating around.”
“Have you made,” asked Nina, “your choice?”
“No, not quite yet. But I will. And I will soon, because I’m announcing it tonight after dinner.”
“It has to be. The schedule is very tight. I’m flying out of Chicago tomorrow afternoon for the coast, and we’ll start initial production work later on this month.”
“But you haven’t,” Margot asked, “made up your mind yet?”
A shake of the head:
“I’ve narrowed it down some, but, to tell you the truth, no one clear winner steps out to me. It’s all like, been there, done that. There needs to be something unique about this show, and I haven’t quite felt it yet.”
“Well,” said Nina, “it will come to you.”
“Maybe. But now let’s talk about something else.”
And so they did.
In weeks and months to come, Nina was to remember the next moments, the next half hour, the next hour or more, as a kind of haze. She remembered that the storm raged ever harder outside and the walls could be heard shaking even more ominously; she remembered that the dim electric light in the library gave way to the glow of long white candles produced by Margot from some table or some desk; and she remembered that the first bottle of red wine gave way to a second, as the hours of tension dissolved into moments of lovely release, and the women poured forth their souls to each other, having found three islands of sanity in a cozy-sea of nuttiness.
The first to unburden was Sylvia.
She told about her early days in radio, and about the menial jobs she’d been asked to do, and which she’d performed with the earnestness and dedication that might be expected from any fresh-faced college graduate (She had, of course, mentioned which college, but, later on, Nina had never been able to remember it.). She went on to describe the slow growth of her career, the decision never to marry (though there had been offers), and the equally difficult decision to avoid as a matter of principle those sexual advances which might have meant faster promotions, but at dear costs. She talked about the move from radio to television, the first jobs of real responsibility, the thirty-hour days and nights, the pieces of pure luck, the men and women who were worth working with and why, the great moments, the not so great moments, and the terrifying moments which could have meant the end of everything––herself included––