Retirement had never looked so appealing. It was a gorgeous evening in Hollywood Hills, and Caroline Prevost, private investigator, was crouched over a producer who’d been murdered at his own birthday party.
None of the guests seemed to care, either: they were hollering at each other around the policemen struggling to restrain them, all shouting about Mr. Gordon’s will, the house, and what this would mean for his picture deal with Gardner. Prevost stood with a sigh.
“That’s enough!” she bellowed. The crowd fell silent. “I’m supposed to be at Lake Arrowhead for my niece’s birthday. I’ve got her present in my trunk and I’ve packed the most audacious swimsuit you ever did see, and I’m looking forward to a nice weekend of swimming and boating with my family, so if you’re gonna stick around and not flee like proper murderers, you can at least be quiet and let me think.”
A bloody pen-knife lay near the victim’s head; it was engraved, but not even this bunch were dumb enough to use their own knives for a murder. The remnants of the birthday buffet sat on the table. Prevost could see shrimp, canapés, olives, and two kinds of punch. At the dining table, the Mr. Gordon’s punch cup sat in its proper place. She picked it up, frowning – it looked like he’d been drinking water from the punch cup.
She turned back to the still-silent crowd. “Right. First of all, whose knife is this?”
A thin, balding man raised one trembling hand.
“Who were you sitting next to?”
“M-Mr. Weiss and Mr. Frederick.”
Prevost nodded. “Excellent. Now, which one of you two rinsed out Mr. Gordon’s punch cup?”
Two seconds of silence, then Mr. Frederick made a break for the patio door. Officer Watley brought him down with one raised foot.
Prevost nodded. “Lovely. Now, if you’ll excuse me, popcorn, cocoa, and mountain air await.”
The press, of course, had other ideas. Prevost’s dramatic exit was stalled by numerous reporters – and several of Los Angeles’ finest – wanting to know how she’d figured it out.
“The knife would have been easiest to steal during dinner,” she explained. “Everyone at that party would’ve had some motive, but Frederick, a fellow producer shut out of the Gardner pictures, might’ve had revenge on his mind.”
“So he stabbed Gordon?” shouted a reporter.
“Yes, but not fatally. You really have to do a number on a fella if you’re trying to kill him with a pen-knife. No, the real murder weapon was poison in the punch –”
“Then why was there only one victim?”
Prevost entertained a vision of smacking the reporter over the head with her niece’s birthday gift. It was a hefty model of metal popcorn popper. It would make a satisfying clang.
“Because,” she said slowly, “the poison was only in Gordon’s cup. I’m guessing Frederick used something that would have left a residue because the cup was rinsed out. When he tried to run for it, well, he finished my job for me. Any other questions?”
“What are you doing tonight, doll?” The reporters cackled.
“All right, that’s enough!” Officer Watley materialized from the Gordon residence like a bear leaving its den. A few waves of his huge arms scattered the reporters.
“Sorry ‘bout those hyenas, ma’am.”
“They’re improving somewhat. Usually they lead with that question.”
“They oughta show you more respect. None of us could’ve explained what happened here like you just did.”
Prevost sighed. “Well, that’s because I was in a rush and didn’t clue any of you in. For that, I apologize.”
Watley waved one skillet-sized hand. “If I had a niece as cute as yours, I’d want to get to her birthday, too. How old is she now?”
He whistled. “Growing up fast, huh?”
“Tell me about it. She wanted a popcorn popper because she wants to learn how to cook.”
Watley laughed. “Seems safer than a stove, I suppose.”
“Barely. Not sure her mother likes the idea, but I promised I’d supervise.”
“Well, my grandmama makes excellent popcorn balls, if your niece wants the recipe.”
“That sounds grand, Watley, thanks.”
Prevost said good-night and was soon cruising along Sunset Boulevard. It was a long drive to Lake Arrowhead, and her niece would no doubt be asleep by the time Prevost arrived, but she thought popcorn and belated birthday cake would make an excellent breakfast.