As promised, here’s the second chapter of Smooched. If you haven’t read Chapter 1 yet, you’d be well advised to click here first.
We had no idea precisely what the government’s business was, but still, we wasted no time jumping right into the bitching and moaning portion of the program. Afterall, this was it: They were going to mess with us in a way that would force us to mess with each other. A quick scan gave me four crybaby grimaces.
“First order of business,” Girl Friday began. “We are all strangers again, just like last time. Not couples. Not friends. Strangers.” Her eyes traveled to both couples who had kissy-faced, and then she let loose with what I deemed a mortal sin, “No more all over each other, or even being close, for that matter.” Then she did something that frickin’ blew us all away. She said, “And that goes for the mayor and me, too. We’ll be participating, and we’ve figured out a way to level the playing field. You’ll see.” With an elbow, she thrust the imaginary microphone to the mayor.
“The second order of business,” Mayor Alison said. “As strangers, you’ll again be sleeping separately, but this time, we won’t even be bunking you up with someone else. You’ll need to be alone, the why of which will be clearer soon.”
Girl Friday said, “Even though this house is big, it does not have ten bedrooms.” She pointed to our mountain of belongings near the foyer. “You have sleeping bags so we’ll improvise.”
“We’ll draw numbers, and we’ll have our detective monitor the drawing so you all know it’s not rigged by us.” She smiled and said, “We’re one of you this time. You’ll just have to trust us.”
As I began to debate my ability to do that, Girl Friday turned and grabbed a sheet of paper. She explained that all possible sleeping locations were listed and numbered. We’d each draw a number and sleep in the corresponding area.
The mayor tossed a small black bag to the dick, saying, “There are ten chips in there with numbers on them. Please check to make sure that’s the truth, and show everybody each chip so they know, too.”
The dick did as instructed, and we all paid close attention. I figured this was especially important since last time we did this, for the same reason of deciding sleeping arrangements, we quickly learned that they had indeed messed with us. They had chosen, not Lady Luck.
Soon, we were convinced, and all the chips were returned to the bag, which was then handed to Vanna, who’d get the honors—or curse—of the first draw. Lucky for her, she pulled a six that corresponded to the sunroom. Joan got the room above the garage, and I hoped for her sake that it had been cleaned since last we were there. Dr. Fraud went next and got a bedroom, followed by Gertie who also got a bedroom, obviously a different one. Then my heart beat faster as Alberta’s soft hand snaked into the sack … bringing out a … a … an eight … which got me whiplash trying to see the cheat sheet… and her … the hot tub room. The hot tub room? Hadn’t we shared a candlelit rendezvous in there?
Abruptly forcing me to exit Memory Lane, she wiggled the bag in front of me. I blew on my fingers like a gambling fool. Hot tub room! Hot tub room! Baby needs a hot tub room! Okay, I knew that was painfully improbable, but still. I inhaled deeply, shoved my hand inside, and hoped for the best. I got a … a … a ten … which meant I got whiplash … and … and … the linen closet. … Linen closet? … Linen closet? How the hell was I supposed to sleep in a linen closet? Fold myself up like a frickin’ fitted sheet? Jesus, I hoped to hell their linen closet was bigger than ours. Linen closet?
“Linen closet?” Alberta shrieked the damn good question. “You’re sticking my Heady in the linen closet?”
“It’s a walk-in,” Girl Friday informed with a dramatic roll of her eyes.
Okay, I got the hoity-toity linen closet, but still, I felt like a young wizard from a really bad family.
Carolina drew next, and when the number four corresponded to the fourth bedroom… Well, let’s just say I think she failed to see the future.
The dick sensed the same, for it was with a strange bit of laughter that she seized the bag from the artist. She plucked and announced, “Number five.” A hurried glance to the dreaded sheet made her look to the artist and say, “I’m in the living room, Hol.”
That was when reality hit the artist. Her mouth went wide, and her eyes went wider. The dick gave her a consoling peck on the cheek, only to have their stranger status loudly reaffirmed by the mayor.
Girl Friday took the red-faced moment to confiscate the bag from Shovel. Quickly, she drew, and quicker, she announced, “Number seven … study.” She whipped the bag in Alison’s direction. “Mayor.”
Seizing the last one, the mayor declared, “Number two, bedroom.”
And then, very predictably, we all pouted. All of us pouted—even the government officials. Our fate was sealed, a fate we all hated, yet one we always seemed to find ourselves with. Repeatedly having this fate was apparently our fate, or something stupid like that.
Girl Friday said, “Last time, you all played musical rooms.” She glanced at Alberta and me. “Some of you bent the rules and slept halfway in the hall.” She cleared her throat and warned, “This time, things like that could prove fatal.”
Fatal? They were going to kill us for being wusses not wanting to spend the night without the skin we relied upon?
Mayor Alison said, “Let me explain.” She smiled, and I sensed it was prideful for some unknown reason. “Last time, Janice wanted us to do a murder mystery, but I said no. This time, though, I actually feel as though the past is behind me. I don’t owe apologies for Lisa, and I’ve apologized a hundred times for my part in it, and you graciously let me off the hook. This time, I want to do it—the right way. A murder mystery that fits who we are.” She looked to the artist and the dick and continued, “Laura’s getting shot brought death too close to them—and to us. So we asked them if a murder mystery was okay with them. They promised us it was.”
Holly said, “That’s because you promised it wasn’t anything brutal or barbaric, that it would be fun.”
“I think it will be,” the mayor replied. “Our way—the DWD way—will be fun.”
“Just give us a chance,” Girl Friday said. “Okay? Nothing brutal. Nothing barbaric.” She looked at each of us. “Okay, everybody?”
We all agreed, without hesitation, and Gertie raised her hand.
“Can I be the murderer?”
Dr. Fraud swatted her. “I’m surprised you haven’t already done me in.”
They both laughed, and Gertie made her request again.
“Everything is left to chance, Gertie,” the mayor said. “It could be you. It could be Dr. Fraud. It could be any one of us.” She motioned to Girl Friday, who immediately left the room, slipped through garage door, and promptly returned, carrying a large tray.
She set it on the coffee table, and we stared.
Ten figurines stood on the tray, each with a blockhead. You know, like children’s letter blocks with torsos, arms, and legs. Except, where there should have a letter, there was a goofy smiley face. What the hell?
We were scrutinizing when Gertie raised her hand to ask a question only to have Shovel steal the airwaves, “For shit’s sake, you’re doing Ten Little Indians.”
“What the heck is Ten Little Indians?”
“An Agatha Christie mystery,” Shovel answered. “You are doing it, aren’t you?”
The government officials shook their heads quite vehemently.
“That would be stupid, wouldn’t it?” Girl Friday asked. “We figured you’ve read it.”
“I’ve read it, too,” Gertie gloated, as though she had once served bootlegged Earl to Agatha Christie. Hell, maybe she had.
“We’re not doing Ten Little Indians,” the mayor reassured. “We said our way.” She swatted Girl Friday, who said, “Our way would make it Ten Little Idiots.”
The mayor gestured to the tray. “Blockheads, get it?” She giggled very non-governmentally.
That garnered a round of well deserved groans.
“But I know the story,” Shovel argued. “I know who did it.”
“Not in our story, you don’t,” the mayor countered. “Different characters. Different stories.”
“Only the premise is the same,” Girl Friday added.
“And exactly what is the premise?” my favorite gangster asked the very obvious question, and I assumed she hadn’t read the book either.
“The premise of the story is that eight strangers are invited for the weekend to a remote location by a host none of them have ever met. The host never shows up. Over the course of the weekend, they start getting knocked off, and they figure out it’s one of them doing it and that the person is the actual host who technically never showed up.”
“Isn’t it supposed to be ten? Who are nine and ten?”
“They all die?”
“So we’re all going to get knocked off, is that what you’re saying?”
“Slow down,” the mayor ordered. “Our way,” she stressed once more.
Girl Friday jumped in, “We’ll draw numbers again to see who the villain is, but first—”
The mayor glanced to Vanna and answered the damn good question she had posed a moment prior, “Nine and ten are the cook and butler that the host hired for the weekend. We—”
“Sam and Charles!” That shout came at least eight-fold, and I felt hopeful that my Fritz and Swede fantasies would still come to pass.
“No, not Fritz and Swede,” the mayor said, and my fantasies vaporized.
Girl Friday informed, “The cook and the butler need to come from our group. We need to draw numbers.”
“Seriously? You mean two of us could end up waiting on everybody else for the whole weekend?”
We exchanged the mandatory glances as Girl Friday collected all the numbered chips. After she returned them to the bag, she headed to Vanna, who again drew first. We repeated the process until we each had one. I got the five, and I peeked to see the seven Claudia held.
Girl Friday produced another black bag, and again she had us all inspect its numbered chips with the help of the dick.
“We’ll draw first for the cook,” she said and jiggled the bag in front of Vanna. “Whoever holds the same number as the one about to be drawn is the cook for the weekend.”
Vanna’s hand went in and came out with a … a … a five.
Shit! I held the frickin’ five! Shit! I was the frickin’ cook! Shit! I had some culinary skills, evidenced by Alberta’s sudden singing of my praises, but they were basic, and I had never cooked for ten people for a full weekend. Shit! Shit! Shit!
“What happens if I get killed right away?” I asked.
“Then we fend for ourselves,” the mayor answered, and I tried to dispel the subsequent desire to put my head on some murderer’s chopping block.
“For God’s sake, nobody kill the cook!”
“The cook gets it the first morning,” Shovel said, and when they all gaped at her, she specified, “In the damn book, not Miss Heaper.”
Girl Friday moved in front of Alberta. Holding out the bag to her, she said, “Next draw is to see who becomes the butler.”
Alberta’s sleek hand went in and came out with a … a … a three.
“Crap!” Girl Friday shouted. “I’ve got the flippin’ three.” She seemed horribly disconcerted, but no one cared to offer condolences.
“In the book,” Shovel piped in, “the cook and the butler are married.”
That useless bit of information caused them to delve into grade-school mockery. I wanted to become a murderer when they started singing, “Heady and Friday, strangers in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g.”
“Speaking of kissing,” the mayor yelled loud enough to seize their infantile attention.
“What about kissing?” both Carolina and Vanna really wanted to know.
“It’s the murder weapon,” she answered very matter-of-factly.
“How is kissing a murder weapon?”
“Oh, so one of us goes around kissing the others, and her other half kills her?”
“Well, you can kiss without it being cheating,” the mayor claimed. “You can, can’t you?” She hesitated before concluding, “Yes, you can. I know you can. We’ve all kissed. We’re friends. We’re family. Friends and family kiss.”
“Because it’s our way,” Girl Friday explained. “We said we didn’t want anything brutal or barbaric. This is murder without any actual murdering.”
“It’s the kiss of death,” the mayor said before turning to grab something from the mantel. “With really ugly lipstick,” she continued, pulling the cap off a lipstick tube and revealing some godawful shade of blue.
Yep, you guessed it: major-ass groans. Groans from the lipstick wearers aghast at the color. Groans from those who wouldn’t be caught dead in lipstick of any color.
The mayor and her girl Friday knew what the hell they were doing. It was truly a fate worse than death.
Groans quickly turned to snickers.