Mart stood in front of the fireplace in the elegant living room of Rosewood Hall. Spring had been late to arrive in Virginia, and there was still a bit of a chill in the air. Mrs. Lynch, conscious of her guests' comfort, had asked Jim to light a fire to warm the room.
Mart glanced down at the thick stack of paper he held in his hands. Unbeknownst to his friends, most of the sheets were blank. He had observed his siblings and friends making copious notes, and he hadn't wanted them to think that he wasn't working as hard as they were. But in truth, everything he needed to know about the diorama and the theory he was postulating about it was in his head. He had no need to refer notes. He took a deep breath for courage before turning and throwing the papers into the fire, sending up a spray of smoke and tiny bits of debris. A collective gasp rose from the group gathered around the room. Good. He had their attention.
He turned away from the fire and faced the group. "It's all in the little gray cells," he said, pointing a finger to the side of his forehead. "No need for notes." He grinned as he scanned the faces of his friends, Di's parents, Mr. Carver and Miss Bates. "Everything hinges on the cake and the pie."
Trixie rolled her eyes. "Of course, you would think so."
Mart ignored her and turned to face Mr. Carver and Miss Bates. As soon as his back was turned, though, he heard another voice from behind him.
"Thereís only one baked good in the oven," Honey protested. "Iím not entirely sure whether itís a cake or a pie, but itís definitely a pie or a cake. Not both."
Mart spun around and pointed a finger at her. "Exactly!"
"Exactly what?" Trixieís voice taunted him with its sarcasm. "Just exactly what is this cake or pie supposed to signify?"
"Well you might ask. Itís not unlike a similar question Sherlock Holmes once answered: Why did the dog not bark?"
"If you think youíre anything like Sherlock Holmes," Trixie began, "youíd better start rethinking. I canít even remember a time when you even faintly resembled Ė"
"I remember a time when I saved your butt when you foolishly confronted the fake Uncle Monty in your pajamas in the--"
"We know all that," Brian put in with an impatient shake of his head. "Could we please stick to the matter at hand?"
Trixieís mouth opened and closed, and she squirmed a little in her seat, obviously struggling to control herself. "So, what could the missing pie -- or cake -- and a dog not barking possibly have in common?" As she said the words, her eyes rounded. "Ohhhh."
Mart wagged a finger and his eyebrows at his sister. "Ah, I see understanding dawning on the face of my sibling schoolgirl shamus."
"The pieís missing!" Honey put in with a little squeal. "Or the cake is. The significance is that one of them's not there, right, Trixie?"
Martís face took on a disappointed pout. "Why are you asking my sister?" he asked. "Iím the one who figured out why itís important."
"I think youíre both awfully smart to figure it out," Di put in, "but I still donít see exactly what it could mean. And for that matter, how do you know there was supposed to be both a pie and a cake?"
Trixie turned toward Di, but Mart jumped back into the conversation before she could speak. "Allow me to elucidate." He looked around at his audience a la Hercule Poirot. "Did you all notice the rolling pin?" The others nodded. "My first observation was that while the content of the oven was undeniably a cake Ö"
"I donít see how you can say undeniably," Di protested. "Whateverís in the oven doesnít resemble any cake that Iíve ever seen."
"Itís difficult to ascertain the verisimilitude of its identity," Mart said with a nod, "but can we agree, fair princess, that itís not a pie?"
Di hesitated, biting her lip as her brow furrowed.
"For the sake of argument, at least?" Mart prodded.
Diana finally nodded her head. "For the sake of argument, Iíll give you that much."
"And since Iíve never actually seen anyone rolling out dough for a cake," Mart continued, "I surmised that there must have been a pie at some point."
"Or maybe tarts," Trixie put in.
"Yes, pie, tarts, something like that," Mart quickly agreed. He knew that rolling pins were also used for cookies and didn't want to give Trixie a chance to bring that up. "Something with filling, yes?" As the others nodded their agreement, he took a few seconds to bask in the moment, wishing he had a luxuriant moustache to twirl. His meandering thoughts were interrupted by Dan.
"So what if there was a pie? Maybe they had it for lunch or maybe Mrs. Barnes gave it away."
Mart threw his friend a dark look. "But it was pointed out that Robin Barnes was an excellent housewife who wouldnít leave the tablecloth askew. The same theory would apply to leaving the rolling pin out all afternoon."
"Is that a known fact about Mrs. Barnes or just someone elseís deduction for the write up?" Brian asked.
"I guess we donít really have any way of knowing," Jim said. "We either have to assume the information given us is true, or we have to decide to mistrust it."
"I agree!" Trixie said, to no oneís surprise. Honey and Diana exchanged a smile, and Trixie paused to glare at them before continuing. "I vote we should mistrust it. I donít like the idea of assuming someone elseís theories are true."
"We need to look more closely at who wrote those synopses," Brian advised. "It may have been a well-respected criminologist who has a logical reason for those conclusions."
Trixie shook her blond curls, causing them to bounce back and forth exuberantly. Mart watched them, pondering as he had so many times before how alive they looked -- almost as though they were an extension of Trixie herself. Her words brought him out of his reverie. "I donít think so."
Mr. Lynch held up a hand. "I think weíre getting a little carried away here." He looked around at the faces of the gathered Bob-Whites with his usual joviality. "I know itís important to each of you to get the right answer, but this is just an exercise for fun. I donít think itís necessary to do additional research."
"Thatís right." Edgar Carver nodded in agreement. "If we carry it on too far, weíll never get to dinner." He glanced from Trixieís face to Martís. "Why donít you agree that each of you, in your own set of conclusions, can accept or reject what was written in the synopsis? Would that work?" The others nodded their heads, and Mr. Carver smiled. "Obviously, Mart chooses to agree with them."
Mart put up a finger as he returned the older manís smile. "Not necessarily so."
Trixie let out a long-suffering sigh, but Mart ignored her. "I donít need to deny or confirm the synopsis because I have another clue, which, in my mind, confirms the fact that the pie is missing."
Mrs. Lynchís beautiful blue eyes widened as she leaned forward. "What clue is that?"
Mart resisted the impulse to glance at Diana, instead locking his gaze with Honeyís. "It was the brasserie on the clothesline outside the window." With some satisfaction, he noted Honeyís blush at his words. He grinned and gave her a bold wink. He didnít need to look at Brian, as he could well imagine the dark glower on his brother's face.
"What in the world does that have to do with the pie?" Brian grumbled.
"If youíll look as closely at the bra as I have," Mart answered, "youíll notice a faint pink staining on the bottom of it."
Brian shuffled through his photos, while Dan picked up the book from the coffee table and opened it to the relevant page, studying the close-up of the clothes on the line. Trixie got up to look over his shoulder.
"Couldnít that have come from a wound or cut that the victim sustained earlier?" Jim questioned. "One that she was unable to wash out?"
"Doubtful," Mart replied. "There are very few injuries or spills that would result in staining to only that particular area."
"Yes," Trixie said. "As much as it pains me to agree with my almost twin, I think heís right about that. Any kind of a wound that might have been inflicted to that area would most likely have caused enough damage to incapacitate the victim so that she wouldnít be able to wash and hang out clothes afterward."
Mart nodded. "Not only that, but there would have been other blood-stained garments that the knife would have gone through first." He paused to consider. "Unless, she was only wearing her underwear." An image popped into his mind of the tiny mannequin dressed just in her bra and panties. It was an interesting idea, but he forced himself to ignore it. "That would be a completely different situation."
"Yes, let's stick to the present theory," Miss Bates advised. Mart noticed her cheeks were almost as red as the little doll's, and he smiled to himself.
"Besides all that, the knife would have been bloody," Dan added.
"He could have washed the knife," Jim pointed out.
"True," Trixie said, surprising no one by agreeing with Jim once again. She huffed in impatience at the smiles breaking out around the room. "But more importantly," she continued, turning to her brother, "blood could have gotten onto the bra after it was put on the line."
"It could," Mart acquiesced, "but itís my theory that it was pie filling that got on it -- for the following reasons." He got up and paced around the room in his best imitation of one of finest of the golden age of fictional detectives. He ticked off the reasons on his fingers as he listed them.
"One," he said, stopping in front of Jimís chair, leaning toward him, and boring his eyes into his friend's green ones, almost as though he were going to accuse him. "The pin was missing from the window. Examining the room in the tradition of the best solvers of locked room mysteries, there was no other egress for our criminal."
"Two," he said, moving to the loveseat where the Lynches sat and leaning over Mrs. Lynch. She gave a little giggle, as Mr. Lynch looked on with his usual good-natured indulgence. "Where was the missing pie? The way I see it, there are three scenarios that account for its disappearance. "
"Of course there are," Trixie put in, hopping up from her chair. "Have you ever in your life put forth a theory that was uncomplicated? Or even an uncomplicated sentence, for that matter?"
Mart turned toward her. Trixie's blue eyes held a challenge, and he tried to answer it by holding her stare. "Scenario A," he began, deliberately ignoring her questions and noticing with some satisfaction the look of irritation that sprung up on her face, "is the simplest scenario. Like Simple Simon, but with no pie man involved. Just pie. No fair, either. At least not to my knowledge." He grinned as the others groaned, and Trixie let out an exasperated sigh. "In Scenario A, the pie was set to cool on the windowsill and disappeared long before Mrs. Barnes died, therefore having no connection with her death. Perhaps a street urchin was weak from hunger, sniffed the wafting aroma of the freshly baked pastry and pilfered the sweet confection." Mart's words slowed as he stared off into the distance, as if imagining the whole situation. "The urchin dug into the pie with his bare hands and left berry-stained fingerprints on some of the clothes hanging on the line in his wake."
"What are the chances," Brian ventured, "that both a theft and a murder occurred on the same day and were unrelated incidents?"
"Slim to none," Dan answered.
Mart gave a single clap of his hands. "Exactly my conclusion. It would push the limits of coincidence to the breaking point, would it not?"
Brian nodded. "But I'm sure you have a Scenario B," he added dryly.
"As it happens," Mart said. "I do." His gaze traveled from his brother to his best friend. He tented his fingers in contemplation.
"Just get on with it," Jim urged.
"Yes, please!" A chorus of agreement sounded from around the room.
"Leave it to a man," Miss Bates huffed, "to take so long to get to the point." She glanced at her wristwatch, which was heavily studded with imitation jewels. "A woman would have gotten there a good ten minutes ago."
Unperturbed, Mart faced the older woman. "Ah, but it's not the speed of the conclusion that matters, my dear Miss Bates, but the conclusion itself."
"Then could you please just get to that conclusion?" Jim encouraged.
"Just what I was attempting to do, dear fellow," Mart answered. He saw Trixie start to open her mouth and quickly continued his monologue. "Since we're not given a plethora of suspects for this murder -- in actuality, just one -- Scenarios B and C involve casting Mr. Barnes and an unknown criminal in the role of the murderer. A case could be made for either one, but the case Iím making is for Scenario B." Mart took a breath, but then continued to talk, and Trixie's eyes rolled so far back they were in danger of rolling off her head. "The scenario for casting Mr. Barnes as the murderer goes something like this: Mrs. Barnes had been baking all day, something she did each Tuesday. She spent hours rolling out dough, beating batter, sifting flour and icing cake." Mart paused to gaze at his sister. "Not unlike what Trixie does now and then for Moms. Days when the men of the family have to listen to her howling in protest and Ö"
Mr. Carver glanced at the thunderous expression on Trixie's face. "Stick to the point, Mart," he remonstrated mildly.
"Ahem, yes," Mart continued. "Mrs. Barnes, like our sibling, perhaps found the work difficult and demeaning, only doing it because her mean, miserable husband expected it of her. No matter how hard she worked to make the best desserts in town, he was never satisfied. He wanted something sweeter, fancier, more elaborate, more original. And he wanted her to serve it on a fancy tablecloth without a wrinkle in sight."
"Typical male," Miss Bates murmured. But when Edgar Carver laid his hand over hers, her expression softened.
Mart smiled at them. "Possibly the tablecloth was what started the chain of events that caused the afternoon to go downhill. Just as she was taking the cake out of the oven, Mrs. Barnes remembered about ironing the tablecloth. She switched off the oven, but left the cake on the rack. She took the iron out, but in her hurry, she burned her finger. After that, she was so flustered she couldn't think straight. She gave up and took a can of beer out of the icebox, and sat at her work table, sipping the beer, even though her husband had expressly forbidden her from drinking his beer." He lowered his voice to a hushed tone. "That's when Mr. Barnes returned."
Diana gave a little mew of fright and Honey drew back, her hazel eyes wide. "You make it seem like you were there."
Trixie shook her head. "He's just making it up. He couldn't possibly know any of this from the diorama."
"That's true," Mart admitted. "But you have to create some kind of a story to go along with a theory," he defended himself, "or it doesn't make any sense. And the physical evidence supports this scenario just as well as any other." He continued his story. "When Mr. Barnes came home and saw the kitchen in disarray, with Mrs. Barnes enjoying a beer in the middle of it, his temper flared. Mrs. Barnes quickly got up. ĎIíll get you a drink, Fred,í she stammered. She moved to the icebox and was just taking out the ice when her husband hit her from behind with the rolling pin. She fell onto the floor. Mr. Barnes knelt beside her, holding her hand and trying to find a pulse. Like most abusers, he was immediately remorseful for what he done. He was in shock for several minutes as he realized -- or so he thought -- that his wife, the only woman heíd ever loved, was dead."
"Thatís so sad," Mrs. Lynch exclaimed, wiping a stray tear from her cheek. Mr. Lynch handed her his handkerchief.
Mart nodded. "It took a few more minutes before it dawned on Mr. Barnes that he was in a tight spot -- that unless he took quick action, he could go to prison -- or worse -- for his actions. He wasnít the brightest bulb in the room, but while he was cleaning the rolling pin, he managed to hatch a plan to make it look like suicide -- stuffing the paper into the cracks, opening the gas jets, and finally, exiting through the window. His downfall was that he should have put the pie out of the way. He set it just outside the window while he was climbing out but must have got some of the filling on his hands when he picked it up. Or perhaps he put his hand on it by mistake while he was climbing out headfirst. Weíll never really know how it happened, but when you look at the laundry on the line, it makes sense that it did."
"I have one question," Trixie spoke up. Mart turned to his sister. Up until now, her interruptions had mostly been annoying, but this time, he felt a grin spread across his face as he studied the inquisitiveness burning in her clear, bright, blue eyes. He had wondered if sheíd catch his little aside. "Yes?"
"Why did you say that Mr. Barnes realized his wife was dead, or so he thought?"
"Nice catch, Sis." Mart couldnít help giving his sister an admiring nod. His gaze traveled from one face to another, all looking at him expectantly, and he reveled in the moment. Suddenly farming was looking a lot less attractive as a career choice. Maybe Trixie and Honey had the right idea, after all. There was definitely something to this detective business. "It was a given that Mrs. Barnes died from carbon monoxide poisoning, as evidenced by her red cheeks. Mr. Barnes may have seriously injured his wife before her death, and perhaps she would have died, anyway, but he didn't administer the fatal blow. He committed murder by sealing off the room and opening the gas jets."
Mart gave a little bow to let the others know he had finished his discourse. He was pleased with the nods of approval around the room, and even Trixie was silent, as if drinking in the various points of his theory.
Dan got up and stretched. "A well thought-out theory," he admitted, "but I do have one question."
"What's that?" Mart asked.
"What if it wasn't a pie or a cake in the oven?" Dan questioned. "Maybe it was a rump roast."
The others laughed. "Colonel Mustard with the rump roast in the kitchen!" Jim joked.
"Hmm, a rump roast." Mart cleared his throat and put up a finger. "Scenario DÖ" Before he was able to utter another word, though, the other male BWGs rose as one and manhandled him back to his seat. He sat down, pondering whether or not his theory was good enough to allow him to choose the restaurant for his birthday next month. He also wondered if the one Trixie had chosen for tonight served a good rump roast of beef. If so, he planned on making that his dinner. For dessert, he'd have a slice of cake and another of pie to celebrate his victory in style.
By the time Miss Bates and Mr. Carver returned to the living room, after almost an hour of deliberation, the tension was palpable. All the Bob-Whites were getting a little impatient, and Mart and Trixie were snapping at each other even more than usual. They both despised waiting.
Mr. Carver quietly resumed his seat, allowing Miss Bates center stage. In her flowered dress and flamboyant hat, Miss Bates seemed to be enjoying her role. "Quiet, please!" she advised the group, in a voice that could easily have been heard at Green Trees. When everyone grew silent, she cleared her throat. "I must say, Edgar and I had a very difficult time choosing a winner." She smiled. "All the theories were reasoned with care, and they were almost equally excellent. There was one, however, that stood out in our minds above all others." She scanned the eager faces around her. "I won't keep you in suspense any longer. The winner is Ö Mart!"
Mart sat in shock for a few seconds, unable to comprehend that he had actually won. As he realized that the others were all looking at him expectantly, though, he jumped up. He accepted congratulations from his friends and the Lynches before shaking Mr. Carver's hand and planting a chaste kiss on Miss Bates' cheek. As he turned to address the group, he paused, noticing Trixie standing in the back, looking a little woebegone.
The long-winded victory speech he had prepared froze on his lips. "To say I didn't expect to win," he began slowly, "is an understatement. I had fun concocting my theory, but I don't think it was the best. After listening to all the Bob-Whites' conclusions, I agree with Miss Bates and Mr. Carver; any one of them could have been the winner." Mart willed himself to go on. He found he was choking on his words a little. "Trixie's theory was particularly well thought-out, almost like it was put forth by a professional detective," he managed. "It probably should have won."
It had been really difficult saying the words, but when he saw the smile on his sister's face, he was glad he had said them.
"Thanks, Mart," Trixie said, a blush creeping up her cheeks at his unaccustomed praise.
Brian gave a nod of approval. His face was serious, but a wicked grin simmered in his brown eyes. He winked at Honey, standing beside him, before turning to Mart. "Does that mean you're going to let Trixie choose the restaurant?"
"What? Heck no!" Mart sputtered, as laughter broke out around him. "Her theory was great and all, but let's not get carried away!"
Brian clapped him on the back, and Mart realized his brother had been teasing. His face relaxed into a sheepish grin.
"No worries, dear brother," Trixie reassured him. "We know better than to come between you and your food."
"It's a good thing," Mart said as they all got ready to leave. "Now, what's on the menu for tonight?"
"I don't know," Miss Bates answered, "but as long as no one expects me to eat my hat, it's all good!"
Notes: A huge thank you to Susan for conceiving this creative, fun project and inviting me to participate with such excellent company. Also, thanks to Susan, Vivian and Julia for editing my piece and ensuring that I didn't change Mrs. Lynch's eye color, or change Fred's name to Julian, or have Trixie hollow instead of holler Ö among other things. *rme*
Thanks also to Vivian and Deanna for helping with inspiration and motivation when I hadn't even stated my chapter and had no idea how to approach it.
Thanks to Dana for the lovely pages and graphics. They rock!
Thanks to Julie (macjest) for posting the link that inspired this whole story.
But thanks most of all to my six co-conspirators on this project. Not even the Bob-Whites could hold a candle to them in friendship and writing ability. Big hugs!
Martís wink is for Susan, and Brianís is for Julia. Mr. Lynchís joviality is for Deanna and Vivian. (ĎCause I know how much they love it. ;) )