This is the winning entry from the November Aspiring Writers Competition. The constraints were, genre:Murder Mystery, theme: Thanksgiving, focus: Body in a Closet, limit: 715 words. The year’s winners will be published in an anthology by Lebrary.
When I found out that my husband Steve was to interview billionaire Paul Bannister AND that we were invited for Thanksgiving dinner, I was in heaven! Sylvia Bannister’s wardrobe was legendary, and now I could sneak an up close peek at it. Steve always warned me that my habit of “closet snooping” would get me in trouble some day. This was the day. When I opened the double closet doors, I saw . . . Sylvia. Her dress was lovely, a daring print that set off her blond hair, but it didn’t do a thing for the darkening blue bruises around her neck.
Steve was covering the series of murders attributed to the “society strangler”. The police were baffled. The killings always took place at private events. None of the servants or catering staff were present at all the events. And although there was considerable overlap in the guest lists, all the guests had alibis for at least one of the murders. The surviving spouses, normally prime suspects, had rock solid alibis. Steve’s editor wanted a piece on how the elite kept their spirits up in the holiday season, knowing that they, or rather their wives (for the strangling victims were all female) were being stalked by a killer. Not that the men were safe, for in a few cases male guests had been stabbed. Police suspected those victims had interrupted the killer.
“Ah, here she is,” Steve said as I tried to sidle back into the room unnoticed, ” so, did you sneak into Sylvia’s closet, or finally ASK for a tour?” He laughed. I flushed with embarrassment as everyone turned to stare at me. Great, he was going to get me killed with his big mouth.
“Uh, no, I , uh, couldn’t find her,” I stammered, “I got all turned around and gave up. Is she here?” I looked around the scattered crowd of guests as if I expected to see her. The men were all drinking and laughing. The few women looked grim. None of the guests looked like they were hiding a secret yen to strangle women. Although, taking another look, I realized that the group of men included the husbands of all the women who had been killed. And if I was not mistaken, the widows of the stabbed men were also all present. What a creepy gathering.
I pulled Steve aside. “Sylvia is dead,” I whispered, “I found her in the closet, strangled — what should we do?”
“Just keep quiet,” he whispered back, “I’ll handle it.” I felt as grim as the other women looked. I was relieved when our host announced dinner was ready. The guests slowly filed into the dining room, finding seats designated by engraved place cards. To my dismay, I was between two of the widowers, with Steve at the other end of the long table.
There was one empty seat — Sylvia’s. As the guests began to murmur, Steve stood up. “Ladies and gentlemen, our late hostess will not be joining us. My wife went snooping in Sylvia’s closet and found her body. Sylvia has been strangled, and her murderer must be one of the people at this table.” The murmuring stopped as Steve walked slowly around the table, to rest his hands on the shoulders of our host. “Paul here has an alibi,” he said, “he was in plain sight of the entire group all evening.” He walked on to stand opposite me. “In fact, the only ones who left the group — besides Sylvia, that is — were my nosy wife, and Charles.” He pointed to the man seated on my right.
I scrambled to get up, and away from Charles, who I assumed was Sylvia’s murderer. But the man seated on my left grabbed me by the arms. Paul had also gotten to his feet and was donning surgical gloves. “We’d all like to thank Steve for organizing our little collaboration. It took detailed planning to be sure that we all had alibis when our spouses were killed. After all, what reason would Charles here, have to kill my wife Sylvia, if not as payback for Steve killing his wife? And now for Steve’s reward.”
I could hear the guests applauding softly as Paul closed his hands around my throat.