"Figures. It would be the kitchen."
Trixie Belden blew a short, sandy curl out of her eye in resigned frustration as she stared at the miniature display. Then, she hid a small, secret smile. At least, she tried to hide it, but from the quick flash of amusement that flickered over Martís features and the mild fear that floated over Jimís, she knew that, as usual, she hadnít been as subtle as sheíd intended. Spinning on her heel in irritation, she left the Nutshell Study exhibition room to find a quiet spot in the museum to think through the evidence, missing completely the admiration behind both boysí reactions.
Even brilliant detectives have blind spots.
For Helen Beldenís daughter, however, very few of those blind spots were located in the kitchen. She was in her element, whether she liked it or not. In a competition, and this most definitely was a competition, where she was pitted against two rich girls and four boys, the location definitely gave her an advantage.
She needed that advantage. How much would it hurt to lose this to anyone but Honey?
"Quiet, everyone," Mrs. Lynchís pleasant but firm tone reminded them all they were dealing with a woman capable of wrangling a household with five children. "Trixie has the floor."
Trixie nodded her head enthusiastically. Clutching her notes in one hand, she bounced to the front of the beautifully restored Rosewood Hall living room.
"Alright, Freckles." Dan folded his hands behind his head and winked at Trixie as she passed his chair. "Set us straight."
"Right," Mr. Lynch agreed. He settled into a chair beside his wife. Since theyíd been designated the official judges, the pair had seated themselves in a pseudo-formal position behind a large hand-painted antique desk at one end of the room. "Trixie," he continued as silence descended, "weíll start with your first question: Whodunnit?"
All eyes turned to Trixie, eager to hear the schoolgirl shamusís hypothesis.
"I donít know," she stated flatly.
A murmur of disbelief rippled through the room.
"Well, thatís disappointing, I must say," Mart spoke up. "I have every intention of winning, but I was expecting a more formidable challenge than this."
"I wasnít finished," Trixie snipped, before turning to the Lynches to explain. "I donít know who did it," she continued, with a significant glare in Martís direction, "because we were only introduced to two suspects, and Iíve cleared both of those. So, it had to be someone else."
"Ah, that clears things up," Mr. Lynch commented in a tone that made it rather obvious, to his wife at least, that Trixieís statement had not actually cleared anything up.
Mrs. Lynch leaned forward. "Two suspects? Donít we only have Mr. Barnes?"
Trixie shook her head. "There are three possibilities. Mrs. Barnes was either killed by Mr. Barnes, by someone else, or she died by her own hand." Trixie hoped it wasnít obvious how hard she was trying to sound professional. After all, now that she was fifteen, she needed to start behaving with more maturity. "My analysis of the crime scene has cleared both Robin and Fred Barnes. Therefore, by process of elimination, this means that some other person committed the crime. And, yes," she clarified as she began pacing the floor. "Make no mistake, a crime did happen in that kitchen. The crimeÖ" Trixie stopped pacing and took a dramatic step forward toward the group. "Öof murder. Cold blooded and premeditated murder." She accompanied the announcement with an exaggerated sweep of her arm, which had the unintended effect of causing her to jostle a table lamp and drop several pages of her sloppily handwritten notes.
"Well now, thatís a pretty big statement youíre making there, Trixie," Mr. Lynch said, pretending not to notice the mishap with the lamp. "Iím interested in hearing how you came to that conclusion."
"Me too! What about that documentation at the exhibit that explained that the state of the kitchen shows she was unable to concentrate because she kept changing her mind about offing herself?"
Trixie had expected the question. Unfortunately, she was too preoccupied attempting to determine if the paper on which sheíd jotted down her prepared response was one of the few still remaining in her hand to fully realize which of the Bob-Whites had asked it. Except, of course, she knew that it hadnít been Jim. He had been busy on his knees, retrieving her scattered notes from beneath various pieces of antique furniture.
Fortunately, for Trixie, the page she needed to consult was still in her hand. She ran her eyes over it quickly before looking back at the group. "Whoever came to that conclusion, and whoever happens to agree with itÖ" Trixie leveled her stormy blue eyes on Mart, whom her consciousness had finally gotten around to identifying as the propounder of the question, "Öis clearly inexperienced with what itís like to actually manage a kitchen," she said. "Especially a kitchen as outdated as this one was. The Barneses didnít even have an electric iron, just one of those old-fashioned ones that has to be kept on a hot stove in order to be used. Didnít you notice the potholder lying across the handle? You can still see Mrs. Barnesí handprints in the fabric."
"Can you? I didnít notice that." Mr. Lynch turned to his wife, who flipped the pages of Martís souvenir book.
"Yes, it looks like you actually can," Mrs. Lynch confirmed, after she and her husband sat with their heads together over the book for a few seconds.
"Right," Trixie said. "Itís pretty clear the Barneses were poor. In the first place, Fred Barnes doesnít have a white-collar job, or he wouldnít have been home at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday to run an errand. Then thereís the kitchen. Itís clean, but the furniture is worn and scuffed. The stove, shelves and dishrags are not new, although it looks like the curtains are. The wallpaper is peeling and discolored, the linens are worn and burned, and even though they have electricity and gas, sheís still got an old-fashioned iron. I think Robin Barnes was doing the best she could with what she had to work with. She wasnít ironing in the middle of dinner preparation out of the inability to concentrate; she was doing it out of necessity."
Mrs. Lynch nodded. "As someone who was in a similar situation not too terribly long ago, I can corroborate that, Trixie."
"Hereís what I think happened," Trixie continued, smiling at Mrs. Lynch. "Fred Barnes left. Robin began getting dinner ready. First, she made the pie. In the meantime, she heated the iron on the stove, and after she put the pie in the oven, she started working on the ironing. But she couldnít do it all at once. After a piece or two, an iron like that gets cold and you have to put it back on the stove to warm up. In fact, we know she never finished. The miniature room shows a half full basket next to the ironing board."
"Anyway, once the iron cooled, she put it on the stove to reheat and started peeling the potatoes. But before she got very far with that, she started to smell the pie, so she left the potatoes to check the pie. It wasnít done, but the iron was hot again, so-"
"Woah, woah, woah." Mart held up his hand to stop her. "How do you know the pie wasnít done then? At some random intermediate point in time?"
"Because of where the iron is," Trixie retorted.
"Huh?" Dan furrowed his brow.
"Whatís she talking about?" Mart addressed this query to the room at large.
Brian shrugged. "Are you getting any of this?" he asked Jim.
"No, Iím totally lost," Jim admitted.
"Me too, Jim. Iím still in the laundry basket." Di giggled.
"Trixie," Honey asked, tilting her head so far to one side that her honey-gold flip balanced on one shoulder, "do you mean the pie wasnít done because of where the iron is now, or where the iron is when the pie wasnít done, but when Mrs. Barnes thought it might have been done?"
Mrs. Lynch once again took control. She raised a plump arm to settle the group back down. "Everyone, please remember you all agreed to hold your silence during your fellow competitorsí presentations. Now, Trixie, where is the iron?"
"Itís on the ironing board in the crime scene," Trixie explained, "but at this point in my story, itís still on the stove."
"But how do you know that!?" Mart burst out, jumping from his chair.
"Youíd know, too, if youíd stop interrupting and just listen."
This time, Mr. Lynch held up his hand, an obviously rare authoritarian move from a man usually known for his joviality. "Trixie still has the floor, ladies and gentlemen." He looked pointedly at Mart. Mart sat down quickly. Diana Lynchís father was certainly not someone he wanted to displease.
Trixie tossed her head and continued. "Since the iron was hot, Robin Barnes did a little more ironing. But then, the pie really was done. She started to smell early signs of it burning. You can see it looks a bit crispy on top, so she quickly moved to take it out of the oven. In fact, she moved so quickly that this time she forgot to move the iron back onto the stove. I know that," Trixie continued, preemptively cutting off Mart as she noticed he was about to interrupt again, "because she isnít finished the ironing. If she wasnít in a hurry, she would have put the iron back on to reheat. So, Mrs. Barnes crossed quickly to the oven to remove the pie, and in the process of doing so, she burned her hand."
"Oh, come on! Now youíre just making things up. Are you solving a crime or writing a novel?" Mart demanded, just managing to restrain himself from standing up a second time.
Trixie looked levelly at her Ďtwiní. "The fact that Robin Barnes burned her hand, is the most obvious thing about the entire diorama," she told him flatly.
"I think sheís right about that part, Mart," doctor-to-be Brian said, leaning forward in his chair. He had opened his mouth to explain further, but clamped it shut after receiving a stern look from Mr. Lynch and leaned back again. "But Iíll let Trixie explain why."
"Thank you, Brian," Trixie said sweetly before turning to Mart, "Allow me to e-lu-ci-date, dear brother. First of all, I think Mrs. Barnes burns things often. Several of the dishtowels have burn stains on them and thereís one on the table, as well. Secondly, you ruin a pie if you leave it sitting on a hot oven door after itís done. It keeps cooking. Thereís no way an experienced homemaker would have left it there on purpose. It should be cooling on the counter or over by the window. The only reason it would be laying on the open oven door is if she dropped it there. She was rushing, and she burnt herself.
"Now, everyone knows when you burn your hand, youíre supposed to run it under cold water. But Mrs. Barnes couldnít do that because thereís a giant pot in the sink. So, she did the next best thing. She went to get a piece of ice."
"And then what happened?" Jim asked, breathless by this point, and so close to the edge of his seat that he was in danger of falling off the sofa onto the floor.
"And then she passed out, Jim," Trixie said, smiling gently at him.
"She picked a pretty bizarre time to do it." Dan commented. He was equally intrigued, though not quite as breathless about it as Jim.
"Good observation, Dan," Trixie complemented, "except that she didnít pick. This leads to how I eliminated her as a suspect. I mean, how I ruled out the possibility of suicide. Think about it. Would anybody turn on the gas, plug up the air cracks and then just keep on making dinner? Wouldnít someone depressed to the point of suicide have made a mess, left a note, or at least sat down? Has anyone whoís ever gassed themselves to death done it while standing up?"
"Youíre right, Trixie!" Jim exclaimed admiringly. "At the very least, sheíd be slumped over the table."
"Or curled up in a ball of depression underneath it." Di added.
"So, I think itís safe to say based off what weíve heard from you so far that you disagree with the hypothesis in the exhibitís literature that Mrs. Barnes finally resolved to kill herself mid-potato?" Mr. Lynch asked, with a jolly twinkle in his dark eyes.
"Yes." Trixieís eyes twinkled back. She liked Mr. Lynch. "I admit I found that theory possible at first. I often feel like killing myself when Iím peeling potatoes. Especially the pounds of them I have to peel to keep up with Martís appetite alone, let alone the other five people who live in our house."
"Poor baby," Mart chided. "I suppose itís fraternal thoughts of your loving almost-twin that stops you, right?"
"In a way." Trixie tossed her head. "I do I think of you when Iím gouging out the eyes."
Dan laughed uproariously.
Mart whirled on his friend. "Traitor."
"What?" Dan shrugged. "It was funny. A little dark, but funny nevertheless."
Martís eyes narrowed. "Are we critiquing her comedic skills or her analysis of this case?"
"I wasnít aware we were critiquing anything," Jim said. "Thatís their job." He nodded to the Lynches. "I think we should let Trixie continue with her analysis."
"Thank you, Jim." Trixie smiled at him. "Now we come to the question of how the killer did it. Hereís where things get tricky. At this point, I started making a list of people I wanted to interview, and what I wanted to ask them. Was Mrs. Barnes a naturally klutzy person? Is Fred Barnes left-handed, or right-handed like Robin is? Donít even ask, Mart, Iíll get there. Before I did that, though, I would check the body, in particular, her hands for evidence of older burns."
"Why would you do that?" Di asked. "Do you think Mrs. Barnes was being Ö domestically abused?" Diís pretty violet eyes widened with sympathetic horror.
Trixie shook her head. "No, nothing like that," she said with a dismissive wave of her hand. "What I really want to find out is if she burned herself because she was clumsy or if it happened because the killer startled her at that moment by appearing at the back door."
"The back d-" This time Mart corrected himself, clamping his mouth shut at the first flash of her eyes. Mr. Lynch, who had just been preparing yet another admonishment, leaned back in his chair, sharing a glance with his wife.
"If Mrs. Barnes was startled," Trixie explained, "it would be more likely she didnít know the killer. If she wasnít, then the investigation should begin with people she knows and expects to pop over during the afternoon."
"When you say people she knows, are you including her husband?" Mr. Lynch asked.
"Yes," Trixie smiled, blue eyes sparkling with enjoyment as she reached the climax of her story. "It could have been Fred, or someone else, but it was definitely when she opened the icebox to get a piece of ice that the killer saw his chance and beaned her on the head with the rolling pin. Then he stuffed the paper in the doors and locked the window so it would look like a suicide!"
A collective gasping murmur arose from the Bob-Whites. Even Mr. Lynch looked convinced. But his wife leaned forward with a follow up question.
"Letís go back a step or two there, Trixie." Mrs. Lynch moved the souvenir book to the side and shifted her note papers on the desk in front of her. "Youíre contending she was struck on the head?"
"Yes," Trixie nodded vigorously, bouncing her sandy curls. "But thatís not what killed her; it just knocked her out. Itís pretty obvious from her coloring and the text of the display at the exhibit that she died from the gas."
"I agree," Mrs. Lynch said. "And I think your explanation so far is quite plausible. But my question is why you think the weapon was the rolling pin? Why not the iron or the teapot or even something the killer, oh, excuse me, alleged killer, brought in with him?"
"Well, this would be one of the things the experts would need to check. Based on an examination of the body and the head wound, one could probably narrow down the approximate size and shape of the weapon." Trixie glanced at Brian, whose silent nod was accompanied by a small gentle smile that told her theyíd both realized he was the first BWG sheíd looked to for confirmation so far.
"If I were really working this case," Trixie continued, "Iíd use that evidence to prove my theory. You need things like that for the court case. But the reason I think it was the rolling pin is because itís out of place. Consider the body for a minute." There was the sound of flipping pages as the Lynches hovered together over the book again. "Mrs. Barnes is holding a rag, but the oven mitt is still on the shelf. I do that all the time. I donít take the time to put on the mitt and then burn myself when the rag slips. She takes this shortcut often. You can see the burn stains on the rag by her hand, the same one she used to take out the ice tray. She did that with her left hand, because her right one was burned. Anyway, she went to the icebox to get an ice cube. The killer, who had been hiding outside behind the propped open back door by the stove, came in, grabbed the rolling pin, beaned her on the back of the head-"
"Iím sorry to interrupt again, Trixie," Mrs. Lynch said, "but I still donít understand why the rolling pin?"
"The rolling pin was closer."
"I donít think sheís asking why the killer thought to use the rolling pin. Sheís asking why you thought he used it instead of thinking that he thought to use the iron." Honey explained.
"Thanks for the clarification, Honey." Mrs. Lynch said. "I think thatís what I think I meant."
"I think Iím getting a headache." Mart commented. "It feels like someone used that rolling pin on me."
"I donít think he used the rolling pin," Trixie countered. "I know he did."
Dan raised a dark eyebrow. "You sound confident."
"On this point, I am. Look at the butcher block. Itís covered in flour. The bowl and the spoon are still there, with drying batter inside."
"So, she hadnít cleaned up the pie business yet. Whatís that prove?" Mart asked petulantly. "Sheís a sloppy housewife?"
Trixie heaved a long-suffering sigh. "She hadnít cleaned up yet, because she was doing the ironing. You have to press while the iron is hot and clean up later. We went through that. What it proves is that she was murdered by someone left-handed."
"What?" Mr. and Mrs. Lynch asked in unison, both leaning forward further across the desk.
"OK, this is too much, even for me," Dan said, throwing up his hands.
"Yeah, Trix. This is some serious Sherlock Holmes stuff here. Youíve gone over my head." Jim frowned.
"But itís elementary, my dear James." Trixie smiled sweetly. "You just have to look. Now." she looked at Mart, not exactly tenderly, but much less savagely this time. "Hereís how I determined Robin Barnes is right-handed. Look at the impressions on the rag on the iron and the angle she left it at. If she was left-handed it would have been on the other end of the table when she rushed off to take out the pie. Look at the direction the ironing board is facing, narrow end pointing to the right. Iím right-handed, and-" Trixie paused here to glare at both her brothers. "Iíve set up an ironing board hundreds of times. Never once did I do it with the narrow end pointing to the left. Then thereís the mixing bowl and the angle of the wooden spoon. She was clearly holding the bowl in her left hand and using her stronger right to stir the dough. The position of everything in the kitchen indicates she was right-handed. Except the rolling pin. Oh, and also the knife, and one other thing, but thatís-"
"Trixie, please." Mrs. Lynch was now scribbling furiously on one of her papers. "Let us mere mortals catch up. Whatís wrong with the rolling pin?"
"Itís on the wrong side. Once she was done with the pie, right-handed Mrs. Barnes would have naturally left it on the right side of the butcher block. But itís not there. Itís on the left, awkwardly wedged between the bowl and the pastry cloth."
"So?" Mart asked in confusion.
"So, clearly, Mart Belden, youíve never worked with pastry. Sheíd have used the rolling pin to spread the dough over the top of the pie. She couldnít have done that to the left of the board, the bowl would be in the way. While rolling out the dough, she might temporarily leave it on the left, to reach for more flour with her right hand. In fact, Iím pretty sure she did, you can see a partial outline of the rolling pin left on the cutting board."
"Right, so she must have coated the rolling pin as well as the board and the dough while she was sprinkling." Mrs. Lynch nodded knowingly.
"Exactly. But why is the rolling pin perfectly clean?" Trixie paused to let this sink in. The result was another murmur from the general direction of the BWGs.
"Because someone must have cleaned it," she explained. "But if Mrs. Barnes cleaned it, why wouldnít it be put away or lying over by the sink? Why would it be put back in the middle of the mess? No housewife would do that. I wouldnít even be dumb enough to do that. Thereís only one answer. The rolling pin is the weapon. The killer grabbed it on his way in, with his left hand, and swung it into the back of her head as she reached for the ice. She fell by the icebox, her body preventing the door from shutting.
"But then the killer had a problem," Trixie continued, her blue eyes shining as she imagined the scenario. "The rolling pin needed to be washed, but the sink was full of the pot of potatoes. He had to move it, but he didnít want to leave prints. Add that to the list of reasons why I donít think her husband was the killer. Fred wouldnít need to hide prints in his own kitchen, but the killer would. So, he used a rag to lift the pot out and put it back in. He thought he was being careful, but his mistake was that he didnít remove the rag from the pot. Itís still there, on the left handle. Next, he used the roller towel to dry the rolling pin. You can still sort of see the impression of a long thin object in the drying towel.
"Once he had the rolling pin dried off, he replaced it where a left-handed person unfamiliar with a kitchen would naturally think it belonged. Look at the picture again. That rolling pin still looks slightly damp. But as soon as he set it down, he realized heíd have to wipe the handle again. Thatís when he found the dishrag Mrs. Barnes dropped."
Brian lifted his head up from where he had been cradling it in his hand. "Wait. The what?"
"The dishrag that was in her right hand when she dropped the pie. It should have been on the floor right next to the stove, or maybe even in it, trapped under the pastry pan. But itís not. Itís across the room draped over the back of the chair. The only reason it would be there and not on the floor is the killer moved it. I suspect he used it to wipe his prints off the end of the rolling pin and staged the room to look like a suicide, skewing the tablecloth accidentally while locking the kitchen window."
Mr. Lynch leaned forward. "You keep referring to the killer as Ďheí. Is that a term of convenience or am I to take that to believe that you believe the murderer really is male?"
"I strongly suspect the murderer is male. Either that or a woman who doesnít keep her own kitchen. Placing a clean rolling pin in a pile of dirty things is something only a person whoís never had to do dishes would do."
"And what else besides your fingerprint theory made you rule out Mr. Barnes?" Mrs. Lynch asked.
"I havenít ruled him out completely, not without confirming that he isnít left-handed. But I donít think itís likely."
"And why is that?" Mr. Lynch asked.
"Because of how rushed the killer was. The crime scene shows it. Whoever did this was in a hurry. He had to stuff the paper in the doors, lock the window, clean the rolling pin, get the gas on and get out of there beforeÖ" Trixie paused dramatically.
"Before what!?" Diana practically screeched from the edge of her seat.
"Exactly, Di! The only reason youíd have to rush out of the house is if you had no business being in it in the first place. Thatís why I think it wasnít Fred," Trixie explained.
"Huh," Mr. Lynch said thoughtfully.
"Remember, Fred wasnít at work; he was out for an errand. Errands donít take that long. So, time was tight. Maybe the killer knew that. Looking at this scene, it seems to me that if the murderer had more time, he wouldnít have made so many mistakes. If Fred had killed her, heíd have two chances to look over this scene before calling the police. Once before he locked her in there, and once after he Ďdiscoveredí her. Given the opportunity to view the scene a second time, with fresh eyes, the murderer would surely be able to identify and correct at least some of his mistakes and make this look at least a little more like a suicide."
"What mistakes, for instance?" Mrs. Lynch asked.
"Well, for instance, the murderer would probably have replaced the knife he used to stuff the paper in the inner door instead of leaving it on the pile of ironing, just at the height itíd be perfectly natural for a left-handed person to drop it," Trixie said. "Heíd have straightened the tablecloth he knocked askew when he reached across it to lock the window. He also would have shut the icebox door, because thatís doesnít make it look like a suicide at all. Who turns the gas on to kill themselves and then keeps wandering around the kitchen, taking out ice?"
"Wow," Diana breathed, while Jim and Dan whistled in admiration. Honeyís eyes sparkled with excited agreement and the corners of Brianís mouth turned up in quiet fraternal pride. Only Mart wasnít about to let Trixie off that easily.
"What about the doors? If the killer locked the window and the doors are stuffed with paper AND locked from the inside, how did the killer get out of the room?"
Trixie smiled at her brother. "That one stumped me for a while, too. Most of last night, in fact. But then when I was getting ready for bed, it suddenly occurred to me what the killer must have done."
"Oh yeah, that happens to me, too," Diana said. "I take my mind off something Iím worried about for a second and then the answer pops into my mind."
"My answer sort of popped out of my teeth. I was flossing." Trixie grinned.
Diana wrinkled her nose. "Oh. Um, well thatís sort of gross, Trixie."
"Not as gross as murder," Trixie countered.
Brian cleared his throat. "While Iím always an advocate for good dental hygiene habits, at the moment, Iím slightly more interested in your theory of how the killer managed to seal off the kitchen from the outside."
"Thatís just it, Brian," Trixie said. "He did it from the outside. Jim, pass me my notes, would you, please?"
"Sure, Trix." He passed her three or four wrinkled sheets of loose leaf covered with a jumble of near-illegible handwriting, half drawn sketches of portions of the nutshell kitchen and several chocolate chip cookie stains.
"Gleeps!" Mart exclaimed. "If the answerís written on those papers, Jim might as well have left them underneath the furniture. I doubt even you can read that chicken scratch, Trixie."
"I donít need to read it, smarty." Trixie stuck her tongue out at her brother. "Pretend this is the newspaper from the crime scene," she instructed the group, fishing a long piece of floss out of her jeans pocket.
"Oh, my gosh! Puh-lease tell me thatís not the same piece of floss that-"
Dan leaned forward and tapped Mart on the shoulder. "Hey, Mart?"
Mart snapped his jaw shut and glared at his friend, but he leaned back in his chair and turned his attention back to his sister.
"Thank you," Di mouthed to Dan.
Trixie laid the length of floss horizontally across the loose leaf. Carefully, she rolled the paper into a tube, with the ends of the floss sticking out each end. She held the two ends of floss in one hand. "Observe," she said, stepping back into the doorway. Pulling the door closed towards her, she lined the paper up between the edge of the door and the jam. When the door clicked shut, she pulled the floss towards herself, wedging the looseleaf in the door. Then she let go of one end of the floss and pulled it through, leaving the paper stuck in the door. She waited for the murmurs to begin before opening the door and brandishing her string of floss with a flourish.
"The killerís last mistake," Trixie announced beaming, "was dropping one of his pieces of string over the lip of the bowl and across the top of the rolling pin. You can see it in the picture. Itís too wide to be a strand of Mrs. Barnesí hair and too shiny to be a thread from the dishtowel. The killer brought the string with him, indicating premeditation."
"Wow," Diana breathed as Mr. and Mrs. Lynch hunched back together over the book to confirm Trixieís observation. Honey smiled at her partner proudly. Even Danís normally reserved features clearly showed his admiration.
"Thatís completely plausib-" Brian began to comment, but he was interrupted by a slow, repetitive noise behind him.
Jim was applauding.
"Woah, woah, woah." Mart held up a hand. "Before we commence with the standing ovation, there is one more detail of substantial importance that I fear our illustrious and imperious shamus and cohort has omitted." He paused for dramatic effect, daring someone to ask what. When no one did, he blurted out, "The drink can. It clearly shows she had a visitor."
"Thatís not a drink can, Mart." Trixie told him. "Itís a jar of baking powder."
"Alright, everyone, settle, settle," Mr. Lynch announced cheerfully. As the Bob-Whites all found places to sit, Mrs. Lynch entered the room, carrying her iPad, a folded piece of paper and a small secret smile.
The Lynches resumed their previous place behind the large antique desk they had purchased as part of their restoration of Rosewood Hall. As her husband began speaking, Mrs. Lynch opened the cover of her iPad, and set it up like a display screen, facing herself.
"We apologize," Mr. Lynch began, "for our delay in the pronouncement of the winner. Iím sure you are all anxious to know which of you we believe has made the best analysis of the mystery of the murder of poor Mrs. Robin Barnes. In our opinion, the presentations made by each of you struck us as notable and unique in their own way. While I know not all of you who participated in this little avante garde birthday celebration are fostering aspirations of becoming detectives someday, my wife and I were both charmed and impressed by your observations and the fact that each of you were able to notice at least one thing that none of the others had. It was not a simple task to judge this competition, and we felt honor-bound to devote the necessary time to perform a comprehensive comparison of each of your theories. In addition, in an effort to be as fair and accurate as possible, we needed to take a few extra minutes to perform a little extra sleuthing on our own." Mr. Lynch turned to his wife, eyes sparkling merrily into hers. "That was my wifeís doing mostly. She came up with the idea of using the Internet to verify a conclusion that one of you came to."
Mrs. Lynch, blushing slightly at her husbandís praise, cleared her throat and stood, picking up the folded sheet of paper. "We are happy to announce," she stated, "that we were able to verify that conclusion. ThisÖ" She turned the iPad around so it faced the group of eager Bob-Whites, "is a close-up photo of the table from the nutshell where the pie was made. And thisÖ" she unfolded the paper with a flourish, "Öis a printout from a current eBay auction listing of a vintage 1940sí can of baking soda. As you can see, the design, coloring, size and shape are a near identical match to the photo in the picture. My husband and IÖ" She paused here to share a grin with Mr. Lynch. "...believe this to be conclusive proof. We have determined, in our capacity as judges, that Trixieís analysis of the nutshell kitchen crime scene to be the most accurate. We officially declare Trixie Belden to be the winner!"
What a joy and a privilege to be a part of this exciting and thought-provoking writing challenge. Eternal gratitude to SusanSuth for coming up with the idea and for including little olí me!
Special thanks to KellyKath and SusanSuth for editing. Both of you provided many necessary corrections and overall improvements.
Shout out to my fellow collaborators on this project: Julia, MaryC, Vivian, Mary, Dana and Susan! Your comments, thoughts, character insights and sneak peeks were not only enjoyable but inspiring as well.
Special thanks to Dana for creating the beautiful graphics and webpage.