The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death...as Explained by the Bob-Whites

Happy birthday, Trixie! Inspired by the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, brought to Jix's attention by the wonderful Julie (macjest), Susan asked six of us in January if we wanted in on a writing project to celebrate Trixie's birthday and have some fun with Frances Glessner Lee's (a.k.a. the "Godmother of Crime Scene Investigation") "Dioramas of Death." Of course, we wanted in! So Susan wrote us an introduction, and we were off exploring the "Kitchen" nutshell and then finishing the story from different points of view, positing the solution from the perspective of each Bob-White. We hope you enjoy the results of our parallel collaboration.

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The investigator must bear in mind that he has a twofold
responsibilityóto clear the innocent as well as to expose the guilty. He is
seeking only the factsóthe Truth in a Nutshell. óFrances Glessner Lee,
Foreword to the Investigator

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Fifteen. Wow.

These were the first words Trixie thought when her blue eyes flew open on the first of May.

Fortunately, they werenít the first she said aloud.

"Rabbit, rabbit," she whispered before she closed her eyes again, trying to savor the weird feeling of being fifteen.

It seemed like sheíd been waiting forever for this day.

And not only was it finally here, but she was spending it in Rosewood Hall.

With all the Bob-Whites.

Not in school.

Best. Day. EVER!

Dianaís parents had paid for an extensive remodeling of the Civil War-era home, consulting frequently with Edgar Carver, the owner of Green Trees. Their intention was to restore the home to its original beauty and likeness to Green Trees.

Trixie thought theyíd succeeded beyond any of her wildest imaginings. And it seemed absolutely unreal that she could be here, sleeping in luxurious comfort under soft rose-colored blankets in the house Lee and Ruth Fields had made their own.

"How does it feel?" The voice was full of enthusiasm and excitement and strikingly nearby.

Trixie opened her eyes to see Honey grinning at her, wrapped in a robe almost exactly the same color as Trixieís blanket. A moment later, her best friend squeezed her tightly. "Oh, happy birthday, Trixie!"

Trixie returned the hug before sitting up in bed with a smile. "Fifteen. Can you believe it?"

A mighty yawn echoed out into the room from the other occupant. Diana lifted her head briefly from her pillow and said sleepily, "Happy birthday, Trix!" before letting her eyes flutter closed and her head sink back down into the pillow.

"Di doesnít seem nearly as excited as I am," Trixie said with a giggle.

"Di gets excited about nothing before nine a.m." Diís voice was slightly grumpy but only in a teasing sort of way.

"Well, Iím excited," Honey said. "Not only is it your birthday, but youíve picked the most perfectly perfect detective thing to do for your birthday."

A strong rap on the door was followed by Mrs. Lynchís smiling face. "Get moving, girls. Breakfast will be ready soon."

"Yes, Mummy," Di called out. Trixie and Honey returned the older womanís smile.

None of the three girls noticed that the door didnít fully close behind Diís mother as she left, and the door slowly crept back open as the three girls continued their conversation.

"Iím excited, too," Trixie responded, as if there had been no interruption.

Di groaned in response. "Murder rooms? Really, Trix? Are we really going to be looking at dead bodies?" She shuddered and pulled her blanket over her head. "Iím going to have nightmares."

"Donít be silly, Di!" Trixie leaned over to grab the flyer for the Smithsonianís exhibit. "Itís not dead bodies. Itís just miniature rooms."

"With dead bodies in them," Di retorted.

"Not real dead bodies," Honey pointed out.

"I donít know what kind of dollhouses you two played with as children, but I certainly didnít have any dead dolls in mine."

"Ah, Trixie." Martís footfall down the hallway had been rather quiet, so all three of them were startled to see Mart leaning against the door frame, fully dressed. "Dear twin," he said, "only you would want to spend your natal celebration perusing the carnage ravaged by unknown assailants on the poor unfortunate residents of diminutive domiciles."

Trixie stuck her tongue out at Mart. "And who was it that gave me the flyer? Who was it that found a website online with close-up pictures? Who has spent the last week talking about nothing else?"

Diana sniffed, her eyes and nose about the only part of her peering out from above the blanket. "Youíre both morbid and too twin-like today for my own mental health."

Martís gaze shifted over to Diana, whose eyes narrowed upon meeting his. She pulled the blanket completely over her head.

"Not making points with the ladies, Belden," another voice said behind Mart. Dan peered over Martís shoulder, a grin on his thin face. "Happy birthday, Trix!"

"Hmph" was Trixieís only reply. She was too busy glaring at her brother.

Honey giggled. "And what kind of Bob-White trip would it be without you two thinking exactly the same thing but arguing with each other anyway?"

Both Beldens turned to glare at Honey.

"What?"

"Honey!"

"Chop, chop, girls." Brianís calm and collected voice broke through his siblingsí protests. "The exhibit opens in an hour, and you three are still in bed."

"What I have to live with!" Trixie said with a dramatic groan as she fell backward, hitting her pillow with an emphatic thud.

Honey waved at the three young men in the doorway. "Go away and stop bothering us! Weíll be down in a minute!"

Just then, Jimís voice could be heard from down the hallway. "Whatís going on? Is the birthday girl up?"

Trixie slid under the blanket and pulled it over her head.

"And thatís our cue to leave," Dan said cheerfully. He pushed at the brothers, sending Mart and Brian in Jimís direction. "Get dressed. Weíll see you downstairs for breakfast."

With that, he closed the door behind him before Jim could reach their room.

"Heís so thoughtful," Honey said, grinning at her friends.

"Thoughtful would have been tackling Mart and distracting him with breakfast, so he wouldnít bother me before Iím even up and out of bed," Trixie groused.

"He called you twin," Di pointed out, still under the covers.

"He does that every year," Trixie replied sourly.

"And we all know how much he likes it when people call him your twin," Honey reminded her. Then, she looked over at the lump on the bed that was Di. "Heíll be falling all over you all morning to get you to not be mad at him after that twin comment you made."

Di then pulled the blanket down and gave Honey a wicked look. "Precisely."

Trixie looked from Honey to Di, shaking her head. "Youíre evil, Lynch. Evil."

"Hmmm Ö" Di said as she finally sat up. She tapped a slender finger against her mouth. "Which guy should I flirt with today to rub salt into the wound a little more before I relent?" Her eyes glinted as she looked over at her friends. "I havenít batted my eyes at Frayne in a while."

Trixie immediately scowled and kicked off her covers. She stalked over to her suitcase, grabbed her clothes, and headed for the en suite bathroom. "Iím taking the first shower," she announced, and then she closed the door behind her.

Honey wagged her finger at her friend. "Itís her birthday, Di."

Di giggled. "I know. Iím going to look at murder scenes for her. The least she can do is let me flirt with Jim. Five minutes is all I ask."

"Remind me not to get on your bad side," Honey said, laughing a little as she shook her head. "Or next thing I know, youíll be wanting to flirt with Brian."

Diís eyes took on that same wicked glint as she immediately shot back, "Brian is for tomorrow."

Later that morning Ö

Three showers and a riotous breakfast and car ride later, the Bob-Whites found themselves at the Smithsonian.

Despite all the bickering, all the Bob-Whites had walked into the room holding the small miniature dioramas with eager interest. Even Di, with all her protests, had to admit that the attention to detail and the artistic aspects of the rooms were quite intricate and well-done.

"Itís a case. Each room is a case!" Trixie marveled as she stood with Honey looking at one of the rooms, modeled after a kitchen, with its unfortunate occupant, dead from gas asphyxiation from a small oven. "So many clues. Iíll bet you everything you need to solve the case is right here. You just have to have the right eyes to see it."

"I think that was her intention," Honey said as she peered into the room, examining each small detail with a careful eye. "Trying to teach police officers to be observant." She smiled warmly at her friend. "But you already know that. And youíre super observant, Trix. How many times have you solved a case with something that no one else saw?"

"You mean, got herself and all of us into trouble over and over again because of something she saw?" Martís dry voice broke into their conversation.

Trixie closed her eyes and groaned. "Dear twin, please. Go. Away!"

Mart ignored her and looked into the miniature room that they were examining. "Oh, this one should be pretty easy to solve."

Trixieís eyes flew open and her eyebrow raised as she turned around to look at her brother. "Oh, really?"

"Sure." He waved the exhibit program he had in his hand at the room. "If you just looked ató"

"Care to make a little wager on that?" She interrupted him before he could finish his reply.

"A wager?" Dan chimed in. "I like the sound of this."

Jim, Di, and Brian then joined them, lured over either by all the others standing together or the tones of voices and the idea that they might need to defuse a situation between the siblings.

"Whatís going on?" Jim asked, as he leaned forward and tugged on his favorite of Trixieís curls. "See something interesting, Trix?"

"My erstwhile sibling had just challenged me to accept her plunge into the world of gambling."

"What?" Brian asked, a furrow between his dark brows.

"A bet," Dan said.

"And what bet is this?" Jim asked.

"This room right here," Trixie said. "My twin thinks he knows the solution."

"Not Ďthink,í" Mart immediately interjected.

"So I think he ought to put his money where his mouth is," Trixie said with a shrug.

"He doesnít have money," Brian said dryly. "He just bought that souvenir book at the bookstore. Did you see the price on that?" He slid a glance at Mart. "Hope you werenít planning on getting anything else this trip."

"Not real money." Trixie sighed with frustration. "Itís just a figure of speech."

"Mart has a solution to this room." Honey tried to bring peace to the situation before it spiraled out of control. "Trixie likely has one, too. Maybe a contest to see which one is right? Or at least, closest to right?"

Trixie then got a look on her face that had both of her brothers immediately nervous.

"Sheís got that expression that says Ďyou are totally not going to like what I say next,í" Brian said.

"You mean her normal expression?" Mart gestured at his sister, raising an eyebrow.

Jim frowned in Martís direction, and Dan put an arm around Trixieís shoulders, leaning in to stage-whisper to her. "You want to recreate a murder room right here. Where we have Bob-White-on-Bob-White murder and mayhem happening so that you can investigate the crime, right?"

"Donít tempt me," Trixie said flatly.

"Is there something special about this particular room?" Di asked, trying to be what Mart usually called "the dove of peace." She stepped forward cautiously, glanced into the room, and frowned. "Ugh. Death by gas oven. Is that what you were talking about?"

"Again, tempting," Trixie replied. "But no. I thought that maybe we could have a wager where Mart put up his version of the events; I put up mine. You all could vote, and whichever one got the most votes as the best solution could choose the restaurant for dinner tonight."

"Itís your birthday," Di said with a frown. "We were already going to go to the restaurant you wanted."

"My birthday is in a month," Mart said. "Iíll take your little challenge, and the winner of the contest can pick the restaurant that we go to on my birthday instead."

"Hey, wait a minute," Dan interjected. "Can anyone get in on this deal?"

"Yeah," Honey said, tossing her golden hair. "Iím a detective, too. I want in."

After a few moments of back and forth, Trixie raised her hands. "Fine. Youíre all in. Diís parents, Mr. Carver and Miss Bates can be the judges." She waved toward the room. "Come up with a solution that best fits the evidence in that room. Whodunnit? What happened? Why? And how?"

Di sighed. "Murder and detectiving for your birthday, Trixie. Only you."

Trixie grinned at her. "Way better than eating Miss Batesí hat, donít you think?"

"I donít know. I think Miss Batesí hat tasted pretty darned good," Jim said lightly.

Di gave him a beaming smile, and Trixie and Mart both frowned.

"And the doctor-to-be worked on preventing additional murders by turning the groupís attention to the unsolved murder in the kitchen," Brian said as he made his way over to the room to peer inside.

"So, was it done with the candlestick or the lead pipe?" Honey quipped as she stepped in next to Brian.

"You think Iím going tell you?" demanded Brian. "I have a wager to win."

Honeyís eyes widened first before narrowing. "Youíre going down, Belden."

Dan began to chuckle. "Iím just here with my popcorn, enjoying the entertainment."

Jim smiled as he, too, stepped up to look in the room. "You and me both, Mangan. You and me both."

Trixie turned her attention toward the miniature room as well, which now had all the Bob-Whites looking at it with enthusiastic interest. A small smile curved her lips.

An unsolved mystery. A wager to win. All Bob-Whites on-board.

Best. Birthday. Ever.

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Kitchen (ca. 1944Ė1946)

Reported Tuesday, April 11, 1944

Robin Barnes, housewife, found dead by police who responded to a call from her husband, Fred Barnes.

Mr. Barnes gave the following statement:

About 4 p.m. on the afternoon of Tuesday, April 11, 1944, he had gone downtown on an errand for his wife. He returned about an hour and a half later and found the outside door to the kitchen locked. It was standing open when he left. Mr. Barnes attempted knocking and calling but got no answer. He tried the front door, but it was also locked. He then went to the kitchen window, which was closed and locked. He looked in and saw what appeared to be his wife lying on the floor. He then summoned the police.

The model shows the premises just before the police forced open the kitchen door.

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The Kitchen death as explained by...

Trixie

Honey

Jim

Brian

Mart

Diana

Dan

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Collaborators

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Description of the scene duplicated from the plaque displayed during the Smithsonian exhibit, although there is some discrepancy with the name (Barbara Barnes was the name used in the exhibit, whereas Robin is used in The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death by Corinne May Botz) and the reported date (Tuesday, April 11, 1944 on the exhibit placard; Wednesday, April 12, 1994 in the book). Mr. Barnes' statement is a first-person account in the book.

Graphics inspired by the cover of The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. Images used from this book without permission and are presumably the copyright of The Monacelli Press. Trixie Beldenģ is a registered trademark of Random House Books, and the characters are used without permission, albeit respectfully. These pages are not affiliated with Random House Books in any way. These pages are not for profit.