Just for the heck of it, I challenged myself to write a whodunit murder mystery in one day. Here is the result; enjoy!
The Costume Party Murder
©2020, Joseph L. Thornburg. All Rights Reserved.
(contains violence, mature language)
“Come in, darling!” said Mrs. Ringer. It was fortunate she had large French doors, for Mrs. Lucas was dressed in an enormous and elaborate hoop skirt. She stumbled and gasped as she crossed the threshold. “Maybe dressing as Elizabeth I wasn’t the smartest idea. I can hardly move in this thing!” She tripped a second time and added, “And with my sprained ankle too!”
“Oh, dear,” said Mrs. Ringer. Her own costume was nearly as cumbersome: two enormous wings protruding on either side of a white robe and a golden hoop was held above her head by a wire.
“I like your costume!” remarked Mrs. Lucas.
“Thanks! But I also can hardly move in it. And getting all the wrinkles out …” Mrs. Lucas’ eyes narrowed and she swallowed very hard. “Umm,” continued Mrs. Ringer, “Getting the wrinkles out was a challenge.” Mrs. Lucas looked almost grim. Not knowing how to proceed, Mrs. Ringer looked outside expectantly. “But where’s Mr. Lucas?”
“He had to drive to Wilberville tonight unexpectedly. Business. He sends his apologies.”
“Oh, dear. Still no luck selling his car?”
“We had a couple of emails about it, but nothing definite yet. By the way, I am so looking forward to seeing your flower garden tonight. You simply must show it to me!” Carefully, Mrs. Lucas made her way through the living room. “Am I the first to arrive?”
Mrs. Ringer rolled her eyes and sighed. “No. Mr. Reglof is already here and …” She brought her hand to her mouth and mimed someone chugging down a drink.”
“Who is Mr. Reglof?”
“My next door neighbor. I don’t like him much, actually. Every night, loud parties. He owns half the town and the police are in his pockets. But he overheard me invite Mr. Campbell to the party and he just sort of invited himself. The late Mr. Ringer would’ve rearranged his face by now but …” She paused and somehow absorbed the tear that was threatening to roll down her cheek. “I just don’t like confrontations, you know? And his wife left him too. Had a black eye the day she left, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh. Well, I suppose he deserves it, but I feel kind of sorry for people like that. I’m sure most don’t really understand why they act so cruelly. Probably an unhappy childhood. Still, it’s no reason to hit someone.”
The ladies jumped at the sound of a bike horn behind them. A clown in a rainbow tunic and curly red hair was honking the horn and winking at them.
“Mr. Campbell, hello! Come in!” said Mrs. Ringer.
“Oh rats. You mean you can recognize me under all this makeup? I feel like I’ve got a mudpack on.”
“Do come in, Mr. Campbell. Do you know Mrs. Lucas?”
“Oh yes, the lady just down the street from me.” Mrs. Lucas held out her hand to shake his, but he just honked at her.
“Silly man!” chortled Mrs. Ringer. Her smile vanished at the sound of “Damnit!” bellowing from the kitchen.
“Who is that?” said Mr. Campbell. Mrs. Ringer mouthed “Mr. Reglof” to him. His smile also vanished. He grew very quiet. There was a faraway bitter look in his eyes. Finally he blinked hard and took a deep breath and muttered “Lovely. I suppose by now there’s nothing left to drink.”
“What’s lovely?” said a voice. There was a loud clanking sound behind them and they all turned. A knight in full armor, armed with a shield and lance, had entered. He raised his visor and smiled.
“What’s lovely?” he asked again. He waved his lance suggestively at Mrs. Ringer and winked, causing her to blush.
“Mr. Reglof is here.” said Mr. Campbell. The knight stopped smiling.
“Well, Mr. Reglof is like a talisman! His mere presence erases smiles.” said Mrs. Lucas.
“You’d stop smiling too if you knew what he had done!” snapped the knight. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be so rude. Reglof is just a sore spot with me, that’s all.”
“And me.” said Mr. Campbell.
“Ah yes, you probably have even more reason to despise …” The door to the kitchen flung open and Reglof stomped in. He was not in a costume, just the suit he had obviously worn to work that day. He peered at the group, searching, until his gaze settled upon Mrs. Ringer. “You’re out of gin.” He waved his glass menacingly at her. An ice cube fell out of the glass and onto the carpet.
“Oh dear. I think I have another bottle somewhere.” She lumbered into the kitchen, as quickly as her heavy wings would permit. The ice cube was left to melt. Mr. Reglof glared at the group for a moment longer, then wordlessly followed after Mrs. Ringer. Everyone else sighed. There was an uncomfortable silence.
“So.” said Mr. Campbell and Mrs. Lucas simultaneously. “Ladies first.” he said. She turned to the knight. “I’m Mrs. Lucas.”
“I’m sorry, forgot to introduce myself. I’m Mr. Baxter. I live over in Mercy.”
“What were you about to say?” said Mrs. Lucas to Mr. Campbell.
“About your husband’s car.”
“Still not sold. Are you interested?”
“I took a peek at it on my way over tonight. Definitely interested. I’m not employed right now but maybe we could work out some kind of installment plan?”
“I can ask him when he gets back from Wilberville.”
“Oh,” said Mr. Baxter. “If you’re hurting for money …”
“I’m good for now, but thank you. You’re hurting a bit yourself, though, aren’t you?”
“Oh my,” chimed Mrs. Lucas. “What is the matter?”
Mr. Campbell sat down, but Mr. Baxter replied, “You know East Kingsley?”
“I love it there! All those little shops and cafes.”
“Yes. But not so a few years ago. Bad area. Crime, poverty. I wanted to do something for the community, so I took a chance and opened a little coffeeshop there. ‘Pay what you can’, that kind of thing. Organized the neighbors, started a neighborhood watch. Eventually the area turned around and other businesses opened. Then Reglof came in with one of his chain coffeeshops, right next to mine. Name recognition, big advertising budget. I couldn’t compete. Had to close my shop. I wouldn’t have minded, except you know Reglof doesn’t care about the community, he’s just sniffing for dollars.”
“He owns Koffee-normous.” said Mrs. Lucas. Mr. Baxter nodded.
At that point Mrs. Ringer reentered. “Well, I found the gin and left him with it. Maybe he’ll knock himself out and give us a little peace for a while. Why don’t you sit down, Mrs. Lucas?”
“Err, I can’t. Costume is just too big.”
Mr. Baxter had put down his shield and lance and took Mrs. Ringer by the hand. “Might I have a word with you for a few minutes, milady?” He led her up the stairs. She didn’t seem to mind.
A moan suddenly flew out of the kitchen, followed by the sound of footsteps staggering down the hallway. A loud retching noise came forth. Mrs. Lucas suddenly said, “Oh! Mrs. Ringer promised to show me the garden!” and she headed towards the stairs.
“I wouldn’t if I were you.” said Mr. Campbell.
“Don’t you see?” He motioned his head towards the stairs and made an exaggerated wink. Mrs. Lucas just regarded him quizzically. He repeated the gestures, with much clearing of his throat. She was still mystified. Finally he made a circle with the forefinger and thumb of one hand and drilled it with his other forefinger. Comprehension dawned upon Mrs. Lucas.
“I see! I had no idea that …” There was another retching noise, louder than before. “Well, would you show me the garden? I hate to go alone. Please say yes.”
Mr. Campbell shrugged but said, “Of course.” He led her through the kitchen and out the back door. She followed slowly, carefully. There was a little path, then an area enclosed by a low stone wall. There was a wooden gate, only about two feet wide. Mr. Campbell opened it and stepped through, but Mrs. Lucas stopped short. “I’m afraid my skirt won’t permit! But I can admire it from here. Why don’t you show me what she’s done with it?”
Mr. Campbell walked around the perimeter, pointing out the bougainvillea, the chrysanthemums, the rhododendrons. He ignored the hydrangeas, for he loathed them. There was a large hole dug in the center; he said Mrs. Ringer was having an oak delivered the next day. Every now and then he looked over his shoulder at Mrs. Lucas, who wore a rather fixed smile but didn’t seem to be paying any attention. As he completed the circuit he suggested they get themselves something to drink.
“No!” she cried out, so sharply Mr. Campbell was taken aback. Then, in a quieter voice, “I’m sorry. I mean, what’s that over there? Those white flowers?”
“The Shasta Daisies?” She nodded. Mr. Campbell walked over to the flowers and began to speak, but Mrs. Lucas let out a yelp and blushed.
“Just indigestion,” she said. “Let’s go get that drink.”
When they returned, Mr. Baxter and Mrs. Ringer were in the living room. He had the smile of a lottery winner. Her smile was tempered by her blush. She thought she should say something before anyone got suspicious. “So … here we all are.”
“Not quite all of us.” smirked Mr. Campbell.
“Yes, where is ol’ Reglof anyway?” said Mr. Baxter.
“Probably passed out in the bathroom.”
“I’ll go look for him.” said Mrs. Ringer. Mr. Baxter went after her.
“Mrs. Lucas, how is Mr. Lucas?” said Mr. Campbell.
“Oh, fine, fine. Keeping busy with work. It’s a little quiet around the house now, ever since …” There was suddenly a half-scream, choked off, coming from the bathroom. Mr. Baxter and Mrs. Ringer rushed in.
“Oh my god,” gasped Mrs. Ringer. “It’s Mr. Reglof. Dead!”
“Dead?” said everyone else, except Mr. Baxter, for Mrs. Ringer’s announcement was not a surprise to him. They all moved to the bathroom to survey the body on the floor. Nobody spoke. A moment later, Mr. Campbell finally said. “Stabbed … maybe five times.”
“Stabbed?” said everyone else.
“Obviously,” he continued, “Someone here is a murderer.”
“Murderer?” said everyone else.
“But who would’ve wanted Mr. Reglof dead?” said Mrs. Lucas.
Mr. Campbell scoffed. “Who wouldn’t have wanted Reglof dead, you mean.” A pause. He nodded at Mrs. Ringer and Mr. Baxter. “Wait a minute. How do we know you two didn’t kill him yourselves just now?”
Mr. Baxter smiled grimly at him. “Yes, I just happened to have a big knife on me and we went to look for Reglof and decided to stab him in the bathroom in an unexpected fit of pique.” He swooned dramatically at Mrs. Ringer. “They’ve got us. We’re guilty, call the police, arrest us!”
“No.” she cried. “We didn’t do it! Look at all this blood! This couldn’t have happened just a few minutes ago. He’s been dead longer than that.”
“So where were we all between the time he left for the bathroom and the time you two went to look for him?” said Mr. Campbell.
“Wait a minute. I still want to know. Who would’ve wanted to kill Reglof?” said Mrs. Lucas.
“We all have our reasons,” said Mr. Baxter. “Don’t we, Campbell?”
Campbell looked at Mrs. Lucas. “I guess it’s time for my story. I was a junior high school teacher. Reglof was on the board of directors. I don’t know how he found out, as I’ve always been as discreet as possible, but he outed me. Well, people are afraid to have a gay man teaching their children, even in this day and age, so I was dismissed.” He smiled weakly. “Hence the installment plan. I’m just delivering pizzas until I can find something better.”
“But …” started Mr. Baxter. “This is a joke, right? I mean, nobody here liked him but we wouldn’t actually have killed him!”
“Mrs. Lucas liked him.” said Mrs. Ringer.
“I didn’t say that! I only said I felt a little sorry for him, just because his wife left him and he seemed to be drinking himself to …” Her tongue froze on the word “death”.
“Please.” said Mr. Campbell. “Where were we all while he was being murdered?”
Mrs. Lucas spoke first. “Well, I was in the garden with you.” She looked at him and he nodded. “We are each others’ alibis, I guess.”
“And you, Mr. Baxter?” said Mr. Campbell, pretending he didn’t know. Mrs. Ringer’s eyes widened and she shook her head almost imperceptibly at Mr. Baxter, who only said, “I was with Mrs. Ringer at the time.” If possible, her eyes opened even wider and she tried to look innocent. It somehow contrasted sharply with her costume.
“And where were you, Mrs. Ringer?”
With as much nonchalance as she could manage, she replied, “I was with Mr. Baxter at the time.”
“Oh, quit stalling!” said Mr. Campbell. “You were bonking upstairs.”
“Bonking?” said Mrs. Lucas. “I don’t understand.”
“You know,” continued Mr. Campbell. “Hiding the salami. Gettin’ some. Shagging. Wham bam, thank you, ma’am.”
“I’m sorry, I still don’t understand. Mr. Baxter and Mrs. Ringer were …”
“Fucking!” ejaculated Mrs. Ringer. “Fucking! There, I said it! We were fucking! In my bedroom! Upstairs! On my bed!”
“Oh.” said Mrs. Lucas. “So all of us have alibis, and there’s nobody else in the house.”
“No,” said Mrs. Ringer, collecting herself. “Just the four of us, and Mr. Reglof.”
“Maybe it was suicide.” joked Campbell.
“Maybe a thief came in?” ventured Mrs. Ringer.
“Yes!” said Mrs. Lucas. “He came in, and Mr. Reglof surprised him, and he killed him.”
“Maybe,” said Mr. Baxter, “But it seems unlikely. I mean, Reglof was drunk and sick at the time. I doubt he would’ve been in any shape to pursue thieves.”
Mrs. Ringer looked at Mrs. Lucas and whispered to her. “My dear, step over here for a moment.” Mrs. Lucas followed her into the hallway. “Do you … I mean, are you … oh, this is difficult to say.”
“Says the woman who just yelled ‘fucking’ several times.”
“Oh, right. Well … is it that time?” Her eyes glanced downwards at the hoop skirt.
“Time? Time for what?”
Mrs. Ringer decided not to mince words after her dramatic confession a few minutes earlier. “Are you having your period?”
“My period? Whatever makes you say that?” Mrs. Ringer looked down again at the skirt and cleared her throat. Mrs. Lucas followed her eyes to a small blood stain on the front of her hoop skirt.
“Oh!” she cried. She tried to cover the stain with her hand but hesitated. By now the two gentlemen had joined them.
“What’s going on, ladies?” said Mr. Baxter.
Mrs. Ringer laughed gaily. How to spare her guest any embarrassment? “Oh, Mrs. Lucas has … injured herself.” she said, then realized this would only draw everyone’s attention to the bloodstain. The two men peered at it. “My word, Mrs. Lucas, what have you done?” said Mr. Baxter.
“Nothing, nothing!” said Mrs. Lucas, and she tried to run out of the room. However, she tripped on the edge of the hoop skirt and fell over, flat on her face. The hoop, lying on its side, resembled a clamshell stage. And inside, sputtering furiously as he clawed his way out from the confusion of petticoats, was Mr. Lucas. He was clutching a bloodstained knife. There was also blood on his arm and chest.
“Congratulations,” said Mr. Baxter. “It’s a boy!”
Mrs. Ringer was momentarily speechless. All she could do was point at Mr. Lucas and murmur, “But … but …” And then finally, “What the fuck?”
“So this is why you were so insistent on seeing the garden!” said Mr. Campbell. The others just looked at him. “With Reglof alone in the bathroom, this was the perfect chance to kill him! No wonder you seemed so distracted. While you were standing in the gateway, Mr. Lucas snuck out from under your skirt, went into the house, killed Reglof, then came back!”
“And why you wouldn’t sit down!” added Mrs. Ringer. “You were only faking the sprained ankle when you stumbled.”
“Must have been difficult to walk with Mr. Lucas under there.” said Mr. Campbell. “And pretending not to know Reglof. How would you have known he owned Koffee-normous?”
“But why?” said Mr. Baxter. “What did Reglof ever do to them?” They all thought for a moment.
The silence was finally broken by Mr. Lucas, who had broken down in tears. “Wrinkles! Wrinkles!” he sobbed.
Mrs. Ringer looked at her white gown. “Where?”
“Mrs. Lucas,” said Mr. Campbell. “What did you mean when you started to say, ‘It’s a little quiet around the house now, ever since …’ Ever since what?
Mrs. Lucas had climbed out of her skirt and knelt by Mr. Lucas, cradling his head in her arms. “Wrinkles … was our shar pei. Mr. Lucas had him ever since he was a puppy, about five years before we married. He loved Wrinkles.”
“But what does that have to do with anything?” said Mrs. Ringer, looking up from her gown inspection.
“Reglof killed him. Wrinkles got out of the yard and ran into the street. Reglof hit him with his car. It was an accident, but Reglof didn’t even stop. He just kept going. And Mr. Lucas swore revenge. He figured nobody would miss Reglof. And when Mrs. Ringer announced her costume party, we knew this was the perfect opportunity.”
“I knew nothing about this!” protested Mrs. Ringer.
“We knew Reglof would bulldoze his way into the party. We knew he’d be drinking. The costume provided a hiding place. And if I said Mr. Lucas was out of town, and I had an alibi in the garden, we would get away with it.”
“I should’ve realized he wasn’t out of town.” said Mr. Campbell. “I checked out his car on the way over.”
“Yes, not moving the car out of sight was an oversight.”
“So now what do we do?” said Mr. Baxter.
“Well,” said Mrs. Ringer. “None of us care that Reglof’s dead. We can swear, all of us, to secrecy. If you’ll help me hide the body and the knife, perhaps in the big hole in the garden?” She stripped off her angel gown; underneath she was in a t-shirt and shorts. “Let’s use this to clean up the blood, and I’m sure I can find another bottle of gin.”
“But Reglof is a major CEO!” said Mr. Campbell. “Someone will come around asking ques …”
“I said, I’m sure I can find another bottle of gin!” repeated Mrs. Lucas insistently. The others grunted in agreement and headed to the bathroom with the gown. “And toss that gown in the hole, too!” she added. “Now let’s see, where did I put that bottle?”