Tawney Markham and Wendy Landau towered over the unconscious body of their employer, Merriam Dayton, lying sprawled on the parlor floor.
“What do we do now, Tawney? Do we kill her?” Wendy asked, still clutching the glass paperweight, her knuckles white.
“Nah. We don’t want to add murder to our burglary rap. Once we collect the rest of her jewels and loose money, we’re on to the next state. Man! Why wasn’t she at her garden club meeting? She wasn’t supposed to be home.”
“Well, it’s too late to turn back now. ”
“Okay. You check out the safe behind the Van Gogh painting and I’ll get the rest of her ice from her dresser drawers.” Tawney checked her watch. “Better hurry. Pete will be back soon from driving Merriam’s daughter to the airport. We need to be long gone with the goods.”
“What about the painting? Shouldn’t we take that too?”
“Nah, it’s too big to fit into my car and I don’t think Big Earl’s into art. He prefers jewelry.”
Wendy nodded, setting the paperweight down and hurried to the huge painting. She’d watched Merriam spin the tumblers many times and knew the combination, but she had to wait until this most opportune moment to take everything.
Tawney froze on the staircase, carrying a tote bag filled with money and jewelry. Wendy dropped two boxes containing priceless gems on the floor.
“What do we do now?” Wendy mouthed barely above a whisper. “Merriam wasn’t expecting anybody today. That’s why we had the day off.”
“Put everything in the bag and we’ll put her into the hall closet.” Both women easily laid their employer on the huge cubicle’s floor. Wendy tossed in the tote bag.
“Now, follow my lead.”
Tawney plastered on a smile and walked to the front door with Wendy two steps behind.
Standing on the spacious porch was three women and two men.
“May we help you?”
“Hello, miss. We’re from Merriam’s garden club,” the lady in the bright orange dress said. “She’s hosting a dinner party tonight.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but there must be some mistake. The servants are all off today…”
“Nonsense, child.” The lady clicked her tongue. “Merriam called me less than an hour ago, reminding me. Now, stand aside and let us in.”
The small group brushed past the two astounded thieves.
“Let Merriam know that we’re ready to start the game.”
“Game?!” Tawney and Wendy exclaimed.
“Yes, a murder/mystery game. Merriam said she’d heard about these games played in people’s homes and she thought it would be exciting for her to host one. When she called me earlier, she said that she had planned a crime and we’re supposed to solve it, then we’ll celebrate with a victory dinner.”
The thieves exchanged glances.
“Tawney, we can’t let them find Merriam,” Wendy whispered furiously. “We’ve got to get rid of these busybodies.”
“Allow me to introduce ourselves. My name is Harriet Winslow. This is Jeanne Rogers, Mary Wickers, Harry Bennett, and Albert Stevens. And you two are…?”
“Her nieces.” Tawney stepped forward with a tight smile. “I’m sorry, but there seems to be a mistake. My aunt left earlier for a vacation in Paris. She won’t be back for two weeks. She must have forgotten about this dinner party. She can be quiet forgetful.”
“Maybe we should just leave and call her in two weeks and try this again.” Harry turned towards the door. Jeanne and Mary followed suit.
“That’s odd.” Albert pointed into the parlor. “Seems somebody left the safe open.” He strutted over for a closer look. “It’s empty!”
“And how would you know, Albert? Have you been here before?” Harriet came to a stop by his side.
“Well…no, but Merriam mentioned before that her husband had given her numerous priceless jewels. I just supposed that they were kept in here. Guess I’ve been watching too many crime shows.”
“Maybe this is the crime that Merriam started for us to solve,” Jeanne cried. She whipped out her notebook and pen. “Oh, who has that fingerprint kit? And where’s the camera? Must photograph everything. That’s what they always do on television.”
“Here’s the kit. I’ll dust the tumbler.” Harry stepped forward, opening his container of powder, spilling it onto the coffee table and it’s knickknacks. “Oops. Got a little carried away.”
“I’ll check the doors and windows for forced entry.” Mary scurried away to the front door.
“I’ll take pictures.” Harriet produced a camera and snapped away. Tawney and Wendy squinted with the flashing lights.
“I guess that leaves Jeanne and I to question the suspects.” Albert clicked his polished shoes together. “Jeanne, take notes of my questions and their responses, including body language. Mustn’t overlook anything you know.”
“Stop!” Tawney shouted, waving her arms. “What are you people doing? There is no crime. Merriam just sometimes forgets to close the safe,” she said, thinking on her feet. “She placed her jewels in a safety deposit box yesterday and she probably forgot to close it. So, people, please go home.”
“No crime? Then how do you explain these large fingerprints all over the dial of the safe?” Harry held out a piece of scotch tape covered in powder and prints. “And how do you explain the same large fingerprints over this glass paperweight and there’s none on the other objects on this table? Bad cleaning?”
“Now what?!” Tawney exclaimed. She glanced at a confused Wendy who shrugged. The little troop followed the scream into the hallway.
“What is it Mary?” Harriet trotted to the open closet door, joining her comrade.
“I…I…I thought this was a door not a closet, and I found this.”
Harriet gasped, but quickly composed herself to squat down and check Merriam’s body for a pulse.
“Hmmm…missing jewelry, fingerprints that are too big to be Merriam’s over the assault weapon and the safe, and an unconscious body. The only suspects are two jumpy young women, claiming to be nieces, and also a bag full of jewels. Surely Merriam didn’t steal her own jewels and clonk herself on the head.”
Harriet stood to face her comrades and the two wide-eyed criminals.
“Albert, please call the police and an ambulance. The rest of you, keep an eye on these two young women.”
An hour later after Merriam regained conscious with the help of the paramedics, she gave her statement to the police.
“Merriam,” Harriet said, “the game’s over, but I must admit that I’m very disappointed. This crime was way too easy.”
“Well, don’t blame me. Those bungling maids of mine were stupid criminals. They were too easy for me to notice their pilfering. I wasn’t sure which of my servants were guilty, but I’d hoped that with the groups help that we’d collect enough evidence to discover the culprit and have them arrested. I just hadn’t planned on them acting out their final crime before the game started. I’m glad you came when you did. You have all earned your dinner and my eternal thanks.”
Harriet hugged her friend.
“It’s all in a day’s work.”