Christmas at Briarcliff Manor By Mia Ballinas
Briarcliff- the perfect little town. You know the types- those that always appear in stories and movies, where neighbors run into each other at the store, and everyone knows each other's name. Briarcliffe was like that- a very tight knit community. Everyone who lives there never feels the need to leave. That’s how perfect it is. But that isn’t true for everyone.
On the top of Mount Thorn, a mountain that sits on the edge of town, sits an ominous building that looks over the little town.
That building's name is Briarcliff Manor.
The story goes that, 100 years ago in 1819, a railroad magnate named James Pickford went on a business trip with his wife, Rosemary, and went through Briarcliffe. Rosemary was instantly enamored with the quaint little town, and her husband noticed. He also noticed the empty patch of land at the top of the mountain on the edge of town, just high enough to have a beautiful view, but also just far enough to be isolated from the “common folk.”
Immediately, Mr. Pickford ordered construction for the most grand, lavish house that he could create: 25 bedrooms, 15 bathrooms, a two floor library, a private study, a ballroom, a lake, even secret passages- the list goes on and on. Money was no object when it came to Rosemary. On their next anniversary, Mr. Pickford presented the mansion to her, and she loved it so much that they decided to move in and make the house their permanent home.
They spent many happy years there, and their and the manor’s presence made the town even more vibrant than before. Everyone wanted to be invited to the Pickford’s galas, and everyone was on the lookout for their elegant carriage to roll through town. But everything was about to change.
That same year, Rosemary fell ill with scarlet fever. Mr. Pickford hired the best doctors in the world, and requested dozens of nurses to care for her. But no amount of money could save her,
and month later, Rosemary, Mr. Pickford’s beloved wife passed away.
He fell into deep grief. His wife was his love and his life. It was too painful to stay in the house, Rosemary’s house, without her beside him. So, he quit all his business there, packed his belongings and disappeared.
None of the residents knew where he went. So, they locked up Briarcliffe Manor, and the place that trapped bad memories of bitter heartbreak and sorrow had remained unopened for as long as anyone could remember.
December 23rd, 1921
Light streamed in through the curtains, illuminating the large bedroom of the stately home. In the middle of the room stood a king-sized bed, complete with a pink satin canopy over it and mauve velvet pillows. Bookcases lined the walls, stuffed to the brim with books. Framed paintings hung on the walls. A desk, a chair, and a dressing table laid against another wall. There were doors leading to a bathroom and a walk-in closet filled with pretty shoes and dresses. At first glance, it was a perfectly normal bedroom for a perfectly normal girl.
But that wasn’t the case. Victoria Montgomery was not a normal girl.
The books that lined the walls were all mysteries and science textbooks. The lavish silk dresses and shiny shoes lay on the floor trampled, with well-worn, plain colored dresses and coats hung in their place. The frames, which were meant for embroideries and paintings, held charts and newspaper clippings about recent cases. And in the king-sized bed, fully adorned with accessories fit for a lady, laid Victoria Montgomery.
She got up from her bed, rubbed her eyes, ran her fingers through her curly brown hair, and glanced at her table by the door. Where was her breakfast? It was always on a tray, waiting for her there. Suddenly, she heard a knock on the door.
“Come in!” she yelled.
A middle-aged lady, all dressed up with her brown hair in a neat bun and a long dress, walked in.
“A proper lady does not yell, Victoria. A proper lady also isn’t asleep until 9:00 in the morning, especially if they fell asleep late reading their mystery novel.”
Tori rolled her eyes. “Yes, well, it’s a good thing that I’m not a proper lady. Sooo, where’s my breakfast? I’m starving.”
Now it was her mother’s turn to roll her eyes. “That’s actually what I came to talk to you about. We will actually be going on a trip today, as we have received an invitation for a Christmas ball.”
Tori moaned. “And you’re just telling me this now? I HATE balls. It’s filled with snobs who think they’re better than everyone else, and small talk, and-”
“First of all, Victoria,” her mother interrupted, “you are one of those ‘snobs’. The invitation arrived late last night, after you went to sleep. And, we will be leaving immediately because we will be staying there until Christmas afternoon. Holly wanted to celebrate the Christmas season with her friends and family, as well as have her ball. Which is WHY we are leaving today. I came to tell you to pack your duffle- and don’t forget your party dress.” Tori’s mother turned to leave.
“Wait- what about breakfast?” wailed Tori.
“We can eat when we get there. We had dinner late last night anyway.”
“But I’m starving! Mother-”
“Stop wailing at once, Victoria,” her mother scolded. “I promise, it will definitely be a memorable trip.”
December 23rd, 1921
As the car weaved it’s way through the woods, up Mount Thorn, Tori could see through the trees the looming building that they were approaching.
Her round blue eyes wide with surprise, she asked, “Someone actually lives here?”
Her father, a tall, slim businessman with thinning hair and glasses, who was sitting on her left, answered her. “Oh, only until recently! Story goes that this mansion was abandoned for 100 years, until some spoiled, rich duchess bought it last year, renovated it, and is having a ‘welcome party’. That’s why she’s inviting us.”
Mrs. Montgomery, who was sitting to her right, scowled. “Harry, don’t put those ideas in her head. Holly is a friend of mine, and after her father, Duke Merriweather passed away, he left her some money, and she decided to buy the abandoned manor.”
Mr. Montgomery added, “Yes, but both him and his daughter are very irresponsible with their money. He was practically bankrupt before he died anyways.”
“You’re right,” said her mother sighing, “she IS a little irresponsible with her fortune, so who knows what she has up her sleeve for the trip.”
At that moment, the chauffeur, Mr. Garner, turned off the car, got out, and opened the doors.
“We’re here, ma’am,” he told Mrs. Pickford.
He helped her out of the car, then Tori. “Your trunk of mystery books is at the bottom, don’t worry Tori,” he whispered to her as she got off, winking.
Tori smiled, winking back.
She went to the trunk of the car for her bags, when she saw the manor. “Well…”
It was an enormous, beautiful sprawling mansion. There were 4 turrets on the top, balconies, and countless windows throughout. Marble stairs lined on both sides with freshly trimmed hedges leading up to the front door, which had a trim of festive red poinsettias. The whole mansion had marble columns and accents, which added to it’s elegance.
Her father whistled next to her when he caught a glimpse of the mansion. “That’s some house. Well,” he said, “Let’s go in!”
December 23rd, 1921
As the Montogomery’s entered the manor, a very loud woman was rushing down the circular stairs to greet them. She wore a very large dress, a very large blonde wig, and had very bold makeup on her face. Tori supposed that this was the famous, irresponsible duchess that had bought the manor.
“Florence, darling, I am elated to see that you made it!!!” she exclaimed. “And this young lady must be Victoria!” she exclaimed. Tori smiled politely as she hugged her, but grimaced at the same time. Miss Merriweather’s large amounts of perfume filled the air like a jasmine-scented cloud.
“Well, Richard here,” she pointed to a butler standing next to her, “will be showing you all to your rooms. There is breakfast in the grand hall, supper will be at 6:00, and the ball shall start promptly at 7:00!” Miss. Merriweather started making her way up the stairs again.
Richard, a plump little old man with a small mustache, graying hair, and a faint smell of cigarette smoke led them up to their rooms on the second floor of the manor, while Mr. Garner carried their bags. “Welcome to Briarcliff Manor, everyone. We hope your time here is just as splendid as we intend it to be.”
December 23rd, 1921
Tori squirmed in her uncomfortable silk dress. Her mother had picked it out for her the last time they went shopping in London. All the guests were dressed splendidly, and the ballroom itself was fully decked out in all its Christmas glow. A large tree stood front and center in the ballroom, adorned with handcrafted ornaments, holly, and tinsel. Candles lit the room with a warm amber glow, and beautifully wrapped presents laid under the tree.
The ball had finally started, much to Toriʼs dismay, and like she thought she would, she was having a terrible time. She quietly sat in a plush chair near the refreshments table, while she watched a butler pop open a bottle of champagne and pour some into each of the empty glasses set up. She entertained herself by observing the guests that her mother had introduced her to.
A tall, large man in a pinstripe suit was standing by the drinks table, taking a glass of champagne. Toriʼs mother said that his name was Charles Stevens, and that he was the wealthy owner of an American railroad company.
William Newman, a handsome young man with expensive tastes- Tori saw him arrive in a very pricey car- was the son of the owner of a very famous, popular club in New York City called The Crane Club. Besides meeting him at this ball, Tori had heard of William because of his scandals that appeared in the newspaper, like his sneaking out to speakeasies instead of attending business meetings with his father.
He had come to the ball with his girlfriend, Marie Holland. No one at the ball really knew anything about Marie, just that she was French, she was rich, and she had met William only a month ago.
An elderly lady with long, jet black hair tied up in a bun, wearing a traditional Japanese dress, was chatting with Toriʼs mother. Mamiko Sato, a recent widow, was second in line for the Japanese throne, but the newspaper has said that the country would rather have her son rule the country than her. Her forced smile and cold eyes that Tori could see in her conversation told her that she probably didnʼt like that one bit.
A tall, blonde lady by the name of Emma Hammond was talking with Miss. Merriweather. They stood far away from the other guests, talking. Mrs. Hammond was trying to put on a kind face, but Tori could see that Miss. Merriweather looked a bit scared. That’s strange, thought Tori. She wasn’t sure how the two ladies knew each other though.
Arthur and Clara Gomez, a Spanish couple, stood with their son at the other end of the ballroom. Arthur held a very important part of the Spanish government, and was known for creating treaties with other countries, like England and the United States. Samuel Gomez looked about Toriʼs age, and his large amber eyes twinkled with curiosity as he looked around the ballroom.
The last guest of the party was a thin, young woman called Anne Richards. She was a very popular singer all around the world, and Tori and her family had seen her perform in a dance hall in Lancaster. She was very talented and the world adored her- and it seemed like the guests did too. She was standing on a small stage that was set up in the front of the ballroom by the Christmas tree, and her sweet voice rang through the room as she sang a Christmas carol. As she belted out the final note, the guests applauded, and she walked off the stage smiling. Richard bounded on with a broom, and swept off all the glitter that was on the floor for the performance.
“ATTENTION!! ATTENTION EVERYONE!!” Ms. Merriweather grabbed a glass of champagne from the refreshments table, clinking it with a spoon, as she walked to the center of the room. “Thank you all very much for coming to my party, especially on such short notice! I hope you are all having a spectacular time, and, as it is not Christmas yet, I will give you all your presents,” she pointed towards the pile of gifts underneath the tree, “on the day you depart, Christmas Day!” Ms. Merriweather beamed, drank from her glass, and all the guests clapped. She went on to give a long, long speech about how she appreciated everyone who was there, and a bunch of other nonsense in which Tori zoned out from. “Well, my dear friends, I suddenly started feeling a bit sick, so I hope you all enjoy the rest of the party and get to know each other!” The guests clapped again, and went back to their conversations. Ms. Merriweather walked up the stairs towards her bedroom, looking a little pale, her face twisted in pain. Not anyway for a hostess of a party to act, thought Tori.
The guests went back to their usual chatter. Tori got up from her seat, and started walking towards the back door of the ballroom. No one noticed that she had slipped out, so she went back up to her bedroom, thankful that the night was finally over.
December 24th, 1921
After yesterday’s ball, Tori got ready for bed, read her novels for some time, and went to sleep. Her polished shoes echoed down the hallway as she made her way downstairs for breakfast. She saw that she was the only one walking towards the dining hall- everyone else must have gone down already- but she had the strange feeling that someone was following her.
She turned around, but saw no one. Strange, thought Tori. She kept walking, but the feeling wouldn’t go away. The wall beside her had a large mirror that tilted so she was able to see behind her. Suddenly, she saw a large mop of dark brown hair hide behind a large marble column.
“I know you’re there. Why are you following me?” Tori yelled out.
Samuel Gomez, the boy around Tori’s age, stepped out from the column’s shadow, with a sheepish grin on his face. “Sorry…. I didn’t mean for you to see me.” He had a slight Spanish accent when he talked.
“Well, I did. Now you know to not be creeping around a hall with mirrors.” huffed Tori. “So, aren’t you going to explain WHY you were following me?”
“I’m sure you understand why one would be suspicious.” said Samuel, now both of them walking together towards the dining hall.
“No, actually I don’t, especially if there is nothing to be suspicious of.”
“You mean you haven’t heard?” responded Samuel, his mischievous amber eyes widening with surprise.
“Well, clearly I haven’t, or else I would probably be following someone too.”
“Something happened yesterday night. Something bad. Mrs. Merriweather…..well, she died.”
December 24th, 1921
Tori’s mouth dropped open. “Is this some sort of bad joke? Because it's not funny Samuel.¨ She started walking a little quicker to the dining hall.
Samuel also walked a little quicker. “But I'm not kidding, Tori! Yesterday night, after you left the ball, the guests kept making small talk, but I slipped away to my bedroom. I got lost though,“ he said, grinning sheepishly, “and I ended up by Mrs. Merriweather's room. Her butler, Richard, was standing outside the door, knocking and calling her name. She wasn't answering the door, so he opened it and when he went inside, he gasped, and then started crying. I glanced inside the door, and Mrs. Merriweather was laying on the floor, her body pale and her face, well, lifeless.“
“And where were you this whole time?“ asked Tori.
“Oh, I was hiding behind one of the marble columns.“
“I guess that's a habit of yours then.“ grinned Tori.
“Maybe a little,“ said Samuel, grinning back. “This morning, my parents said that they, and the other guests, got a letter from Richard to meet at the dining hall at 9:00 for some important news. That's probably what the meeting is about.“
They both went quiet for a minute, processing everything that had happened. Abruptly, Tori asked: “Do you think she was murdered?“
“What?“ said Samuel, disbelievingly.
“I asked if you think she was murdered. I mean, you were following me, and you said that you were suspicious,“ Tori responded with an arched, questioning eyebrow. Then, with a look of realization, she asked, “Did you think I was the murderer?“
Samuel rolled his eyes. “Yes, so maybe I was following you for that reason. But, I follow new people all the time.“ At that, Tori stared at him strangely.
“Well, I don't mean it like THAT. I just, well, try to learn a little more about people. You never know when it might come in handy. At least, that's what Sleuth Magazine recommended for aspiring detectives…. Why are you still staring at me like that?“
Tori blushed. “Well, it's just that, I've never met anyone my age before who also likes reading Sleuth. I have a monthly subscription, and my mother hates it. She thinks I should be doing what other girls should be doing, like practicing calligraphy and knitting.“
“Oh, so you're also an aspiring detective?“ said Samuel curiously.
“Well, I would like to be, but nothing interesting ever really happens in my life. That's why I have my nose in mystery novels all the time.“
“Me too,“ smiled Samuel. “Anyways, yes, now that you don't think I'm strange, I do believe that she was murdered. It's not normal for someone to be perfectly healthy one day, and-“
“What are you blabbering on about now, Samuel?“
Samuel and Tori looked up, startled. They were so deep in their conversation, they hadn't realized that they had reached the dining hall. Now, Samuel's parents stood in front of them, exiting the dining hall.
His mother, Mrs. Gomez, narrowed her eyes at Samuel. She spoke with a thick Spanish accent. “Don't go planting ridiculous ideas in that nice girl's head. She doesn't need to be worried about some murderer running loose in the manor.“ At this, Tori rolled her eyes. “What happened to Mrs. Merriweather is not something to joke around about.“
Samuel looked down. “I'm sorry, Mama.“
“Now, you both should probably go back to your bedrooms. This meeting is no place for children.“ said Mr. Gomez. “The butler will send something up for your breakfast, and Samuel, stop talking about murder and crimes, or whatever.
The Gomez family disappeared through the corridor, and Tori went back up to her bedroom, her mind swirling with thoughts about the possible murder.
December 24th, 1921
Tori sat on the bed in her bedroom, curled up with a velvet pillow and an issue of Sleuth magazine. She had been in her room all day, since there really was nothing better to do in the huge manor. She was reading an article by her favorite detective of the Pinkerton Agency in New York City, Mr. Thomas Collins, about how to dig deeper into a case. The familiar, yellowing paper of the magazine rustled in her hands as she thought back to the death of Mrs. Merriweather. Lost in her thoughts, she jumped when she heard a knock on her door. The butler brought breakfast hours ago , she thought, so who could it be? “Come in!“ she called out.
A messy head of chocolate brown hair popped inside the door. “Hi, Tori.“
Surprised, Tori got up from her bed. “What are you doing here?“
“You know, a ´Hello, Samuel´, or a ´How are you?´ would be nice once in a while, not just questions,“ said Samuel, sitting down on one of the armchairs placed against the wall.
“Oh sure, you can sit down.“ said Victoria sarcastically, putting down her magazine and sitting on the armchair next to Samuels.
“Anyways, I've got updates of the case.“ said Samuel, with a pad of paper and a pen in his hand.
“Wait, hold on a second. First of all, it might not even be a murder. For all we know, it could have just been natural causes. Second, what do you mean, case? We aren't detectives, we aren't just going to run around the manor looking for clues. And third, we-“
“Goodness, Tori, that's what I came to talk to you about,“ replied Samuel. “For starters, it was definitely not natural causes. I found something under the drinks table when I was investigating the scene of the crime that I think might be interesting….“
From inside his trouser pocket, Samuel pulled out a piece of paper, folded as if it was used like a shovel of some sort. It looked stained and dirty, and it had faint words written on it.
“Wow, a piece of paper. Soooo interesting.“ Tori said dryly, crossing her arms.
“It's not just any piece of paper though. Smell it.“
“What?“ said Tori bewildered.
“I told you. Smell it.“
Tori took the piece of paper cautiously, staring at Samuel, holding it near her nose so that she got a whiff of the paper. Her eyebrows furrowed.
“It smells like- like…almonds?“ Tori´s eyes widened. “Oh….almonds.“
A lot of murder cases in Sleuth magazine had to do with poisonings. One of the most common poisons used was cyanide. Tori had read various times, Detective Collins' descriptions about it: Beware of the smell of bitter almonds- it is one of the greatest clues of the presence of sodium cyanide, the solid form of the deadly poison.
Samuel had a grim look on his face. “Told you so.“ They both stared quietly at the piece of paper in Tori's hands.
“Anyways,“ Samuel started, “as for the second thing you were talking about, we both have more than enough experience to take on something like this. Hasn't this been an opportunity that you've always wanted, Tori? To take on your own case, like all the detectives you read about?
“Well, I didn't want someone to DIE!“ cried Tori. “This is insane, I don't think we-“
“Tori! Would you rather stay curled up, reading about adventures? Or take on one of your own?“
Tori looked down at her lap. What Samuel was saying was true. She had always wanted to become a detective, defying her mothers orders to read about cases and taking notes. A chance like this would probably never come up again. It was now or never.
“All right. Let's get started.“
December 24th, 1921
“Splendid- I knew you'd come around once I talked to you. I'm very persuasive, you know.“ grinned Samuel.
Tori sighed. “All right then, do you want to use your ´special skills´ to get information out of the list of suspects?“
Tori tapped on her temples with her finger. “I've been thinking about this, um, case, all morning. All we have to do now is put it on paper.“
Samuel frowned. “I think you need to edit that a little. You have to add your chauffeur, your parents, and take my parents off the list.“
“I was watching my parents all night- they couldn’t have done it. Mr. Garner was in the servants quarters the whole time anyways. Also, your parents looked suspicious, leaving the dining room before everyone else, and we have to keep our options open.“
“But I was watching them all night too. It would have been impossible for them to do it without me noticing, and- “
“Fine, fine, just stop going on and on about it!” Tori crossed them off. “Now, do you want to stop arguing and start figuring this out?”
Tori took a deep breath as she neared the door to the library, which also used to be Mr. Pickford’s old study. She had asked her father about the history of the mansion yesterday during dinner, so she knew where to look. Tori pushed the door open, and entered into a lavish study, with floor to ceiling oak bookcases stuffed to the brim with books. The bright sunshine shone in through the large windows, reflecting off the crystal ornaments on the Christmas tree in the center, and creating rainbows on the floor. A set of circular marble staircases led to a loft, which had the looks of an office space- what she was looking for.
She walked up the staircase, and found herself in front of an ancient looking, cedar desk. A thick layer of dust had accumulated on it. Clearly, Mrs. Merriweather hadn't cared enough to look through it in the short time she had been there.
Tori looked through the stack of papers on the desk, opened the cabinets, and the drawers. Finally, she found what she was looking for- the blueprints of the manor. Swiftly and quietly, she walked down the staircase towards the exit. Suddenly, she heard voices getting louder and louder. They were heading towards the library.
As big as the library was, there was nowhere to hide, except in plain sight. She walked over to a paneled wall that had a floor length painting on it, and pressed herself against it. She hoped that if she didn’t move, they might not notice her.
Then, the wall moved.
Startled, Tori backed away from the wall. Was it just her imagination? But the voices were getting louder, and she had no other choice. She pushed on it with all her weight, and the apparent “paneled wall” swung open like a door at the same time the library doors opened. She stepped into the dark abyss, and as she closed the door, she saw Mr. Newman and Ms. Richards walk in together.
December 24th, 1921
Tori stepped into a dark hallway which was dark and empty, but extremely long. Up to where she could see, it looked like it stretched the length of the actual hallway. I’ll explore it later, she thought, as she softly put her ear next to the wall where she had come from.
“Will, we can’t keep avoiding it any longer. We have to talk about it.”
“We can’t, Annie. You know that if anyone knew, it would be all over the press. The only reason why I agreed to meet you here was because I wanted to set things straight, once and for all.”
“Before you say anything, that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. Not now, anyways. I actually needed to talk about- well, Mrs. Merriweather’s death.”
“Oh, I know what you’re thinking, and I’m surprised that after knowing each other for so long, you would think that of me.”
“Can you blame me? You’ve been terrified that our secret would get out. Holly was the only one who knew about it, up till now. We both know that she has- well, had- a big mouth, that she was spending the last of her fortune, and that newspapers pay top dollar for juicy gossip like this.” Ms. Richards’ voice wobbled. “And now, all of a sudden, she’s dead.”
“So you automatically think it’s me? There are other guests, all people who knew Holly and might have had motives to do something. Anyways, you and your twisted mind are thinking it’s murder and not just death. When the doctor that the butler called for comes tomorrow, you’ll see. Besides, I have no reason to be explaining myself to you. For all everyone knows, we’ve just met. You go your way, I go mine. Good-day, Ms. Richards.”
Tori heard thumping footsteps, and the swinging of the heavy library door. After a few moments of silence, a resigned sigh came. The sound of high-heeled shoes clicking on the floor got softer, until the door slammed shut.
After waiting a minute, Tori pulled on the sides of the newly discovered door, and stepped back into the library, blueprint in hand.
“Gosh,” she said to herself, “this is turning out to be a very interesting holiday.”
December 24th, 1921
Samuel was flipping through a Sleuth magazine when Tori walked in, gasping from running back to her room.
“Where were you?” he exclaimed. “You left more than half an hour ago, and you said that we would meet back here at 1:30.”
“Well, maybe, I ran into a little trouble on the way, all right?” Tori shot back. “Anyways, besides the blueprints, I found out some very interesting information about the case, but if my unpunctuality bothers you, then I won’t tell you.”
“Oh, just tell me already!”
So Tori explained everything that she had found out, from the secret passage to the conversation she heard.
Samuel’s amber eyes widened. “Well, looks like we have our first confirmed suspect.”
Tori nodded. “Right. I concluded that Mr. Newman and Ms. Richards have a relationship together, but they don’t want anyone to find out about it. Ms. Merriweather did, and since she was going bankrupt, she probably threatened to spread the gossip to newspapers.”
“Which would give Mr. Newman a motive to murder Ms. Merriweather. But what about Ms. Richards? She sounds like she wouldn’t care if people found out about her relationship with Mr. Newman.”
“Yes, but we can’t rule her out just yet. Anyways,” said Tori, tucking her hair behind her ears as she spread the blueprint on the desk, “we have to plan out how we are going to observe our suspects.”
“And,” said Samuel slyly, “these ‘secret passages’ of yours will definitely prove helpful.”
“Yes- and look! I didn’t notice this when I grabbed the papers, because their outline is very faint, but the passages are marked on the blueprint!” she exclaimed. “All right then, I did my part- did you get the RSVP list?”
“Of course. It has the full name of each guest and their room number.”
“All right then. Well, it looks like the men who did not come here with their families- Mr. Stevens and Mr. Newman- have rooms right next to each other in the East Wing. Room Numbers 5 and 6.” She wrote down their names on their rooms that were depicted on the blueprint. “Same thing goes for the single ladies- Ms. Holland, Mrs. Sato, Ms. Richards, and Ms. Hammond are next to each other in the West Wing. Room Numbers 9, 10, 11, and 12.”
“My family and your family are in the South Wing, and Miss. Merriweather’s main bedroom- which was the owner’s old room- is the only one in the North Wing.” added Samuel.
“Perfect- I’ll take the West Wing and you’ll take the East and North at 2:30, around lunchtime when everyone is in the Dining Room.”
“What if our parents look for us?” asked Samuel.
“Then,” smiled Tori, “we’ll use the secret passageways. Luckily, a good detective is always prepared.” From her trunk full of magazines, she pulled out 2 flashlights. “It’s dark inside the passageways.”
Samuel took one, grinning. “Thank you, Detective Montgomery. We’ll meet back here at 3:00, sharp.”
December 24th, 1921
Blueprint in hand (so that she wouldn’t get lost again) Tori approached the West Wing bedrooms. The hallway was empty, because everyone already must have gone down for lunch. Oh, I really hope they’re not locked, thought Tori. She approached Room 9, Ms. Hammond’s room. Luckily, the door opened quite easily.
Tori entered a brightly lit room, with a large bed in the middle and a wooden wardrobe painted in lavender and gold. It matched the dressing table on the other side of the room. Tori quietly opened the drawers of the dressing table, looking for any type of clue that could lead to Ms. Merriweather. Expensive jewelry and makeup sat in the drawers, except for a few things that Tori took out- a locket and two notes.
The locket clicked upen, and inside it held a small, cut out, photograph. It was blurry, but she could see it was of two smiling little girls in summer dresses and bonnets, sitting in a blanket in the grass on a sunny day. The toothy smile and round cheeks of one of the girls made Tori immediately think of Ms. Merriweather, and the thin face and straight hair of the other girl looked just like a younger Ms. Hammond.
The first note, which was written in careful script, said:
When Uncle Felix, your father, passed away, he left you most of his fortune, and me only a small amount. Less than a year later, and while I invested my part and am saving it successfully, you have used up almost all of yours on frivolous things and experiences. Now, with the last drops of your fortune, you approach me for some of my part, saying you needed it for essentials. Like the good cousin I always was, I gave you what you asked for. Yet, months later, you still haven’t paid me back. Now, I’m receiving an invitation to a “Christmas Ball?” Was this the essential you needed to spend MY money on? You must pay me back immediately, Holly. I’m on the brim of my patience here, and I need the money back. Not everyone is a spoiled duchess like you. If you don’t pay what you owe in two weeks' time, I’ll be forced to take drastic measures.
The second note simply read:
I’m sorry. I can’t pay you back just yet. Give me two more weeks- I promise I will. I’ve enclosed the letter you sent because I don’t want any evidence of our deal on my person. What will my guests think- that I’m POOR? Just give me more time, I’ll pay you back when I can.
Another confirmed motive, thought Tori. The two ladies were close cousins- that’s how they know each other. And the date that Ms. Hammond had sent the letter was exactly two weeks from the day before Ms. Merriweather was murdered. Quickly, Tori put everything back where she found it, and moved on to the next bedroom. Ms. Sato’s room had nothing particularly incriminating, just more dresses and makeup, so she kept going.
Room 11 (Ms. Holland’s room), unfortunately, was locked. Luckily, Sphinx magazine had a tips-and-tricks issue where Tori learned how to use a hair clip to open the door- so she did just that. Closing it again behind her, she realized all the bedrooms had the same layout. Like most other women’s bedrooms, dresses hung in the wardrobe, and makeup sat on the dressing table. However, unlike all the other rooms, the bed wasn’t neatly made. Tori looked through the sheets, her search coming up empty. Suddenly, the door swung open, and Tori hid the blueprint behind her back. A girl wearing a maids outfit who looked a little older than Tori, with frizzy, auburn hair, wide brown eyes and a sprinkling of freckles, walked in with a little cart holding cleaning supplies. Her eyes got even wider and she looked terrified. “I-I-I’m so s-s-sorry ma’am, I-I did not know th-th-there was someone in h-h-here, it's j-j-just th-that it’s l-l-lunchtime and when I-I-I make m-my usual r-rounds, and”
“Don’t worry about it, it’s not even my room.” interrupted Tori. The maid raised an eyebrow at that. “Umm, I mean, Ms. Holland asked me to get something of hers.” Tori picked up a random lipstick that was sitting on the table. “And here it is, so I guess I’ll just be going now.” Tori started walking towards the door, but she stopped. A maid is always listening and watching, even if we don’t notice her. It’s always important to talk to witnesses in a case, she thought.
“But before I go, tell me, what’s your name?” asked Tori.
Somehow her eyes got even wider and her face paler. “Are you going to report me to my boss? I didn’t mean to barge in, it’s just that it was locked and all the staff members get they keys to the rooms-”
“No, no, nothing of that sort. I just want to know, since I barely talk to girls my age, and you seem nice! Especially since this weekend has been terribly boring so far.”
The maid relaxed, and she got less tense. “Well, all right then- my name’s Isabelle, but my friends call me Izzy. And, if I may, Miss-”
“Oh, just call me Tori.”
Izzy smiled. “Well, Tori, I think this weekend has been anything but boring, what with Ms. Merriweather’s death and everything.”
Everything was going according to plan, but Tori put on her best devastated face. “Oh, that’s right! What a pity, really, what a pity- and she looked so young and healthy too! I guess it makes sense what some of the guests were talking about, you know.”
“What were they saying?” inquired Izzy, with a curious look on her face.
“Oh, just some rumor of her being murdered! Of course, it’s not like anyone saw, I don’t know, poison being slipped into her glass or anything. It’s all very silly to me, really.”
Izzy’s face suddenly changed with worry. “Well, I don’t know- it’s all very strange if you ask me. The doctor actually came earlier this morning to examine the body, to tell her family the cause of death and everything. I was cleaning the mirrors in the North Wing, and I heard the doctor telling Richard, the head butler, that it was poisoning-cyanide, no less!”
Tori acted surprised. “No!”
“Really, really, it was! But I can’t see how she could have been poisoned! None of the guests at the party look like the type to be murderers, or any of the staff.”
“Well, yes, you’re right…but, once word gets out that a duchess got murdered, the police are going to want to come, and you’re probably going to get interviewed for what you saw.”
“That’s another thing- Richard was going to make the announcement during lunch today! The police are going to investigate, after all the guests leave. But, you’re right- what will I say?”
“Did you see anything, maybe something odd or suspicious at around the time of the murder?” asked Tori.
“No, not really- well, I did see something, but I don’t think it has to do with the case.”
“I think everything is important!” nudged Tori, trying to get her to reveal something important.
“Well, I was kneeling on the ground, cleaning the silverware, when I heard someone walk in. I don’t think she noticed me because I was on the other side of the large table, but I peeked, and I saw it was Ms. Holland. There’s a telephone in the dining hall, the only one in the manor, and she used it to call someone- I’m not sure who. The whole conversation was in French, so I didn’t understand it, but she sounded angry and I did hear her say Mr. Newman’s name a lot.”
“When did this all happen, Izzy?” asked Tori.
“Oh, around 7:45? Yes, I think it was exactly that time, because my schedule said I had to clean the silverware at 7:40, and I was already working on it for five minutes. Her call was around 10 minutes long, because at 8:00 I had to report back to the servants quarters.”
Tori’s eyes sparkled- they had finally eliminated their first suspect! “Well, it was nice talking to you, Izzy. I hope we can talk again soon, but I have to go down for lunch.”Izzy waved good-bye and she started fixing up the bed.
Without Izzy noticing, Tori slipped into Ms. Richard's bedroom, the last one there. Like the others, it was pretty empty, a typical guest bedroom. Tori was about to go back when she noticed the full trashcan near the table. Kneeling, Tori carefully looked through. It held used makeup wipes and an apple core, but she also found a small crumpled piece of paper. When she read it, Tori gasped. She checked her wristwatch, realizing that it was almost time to meet up with Samuel, so she quickly put the piece of paper in her pocket and left.
December 24th, 1921
The dining room rang with hushed chatter as the guests finished up their lunch. Tori, sitting next to her mother, quickly ate her roast chicken and peas, and moved on to her apple pie for dessert. She wanted to finish up quickly so that she could finish writing up all the new developments in the case.
“Victoria, please, stop eating like a starved savage and behave like a lady. Isn’t it enough that you were half an hour late for lunch? ” Tori’s mother scolded.
Tori was about to shoot back a sarcastic comment, but remembered that if she didn’t want to raise any suspicion about her case, then she had to stay on her mother’s good side. “I am very sorry, Mother. I want to make a good impression on all the guests.” She finished her last spoonful of pie and crossed the silverware to signify that she was finished. Tori pulled out her case notebook, and wrote down all the new developments in the case.
“What are you doing in that notebook anyways, Victoria?” asked her mother, peering over.
Tori quickly flipped over a page to a drawing of a flower. “Oh, I just started reading this fascinating book about botany, and I wanted to try drawing the beautiful hibiscus plant.”
Mrs. Montgomery smiled. “Well, I’m glad to see you doing more ladylike things.”
Tori forced a smile on her face. “Of course, Mother.” After her mother had looked away, she flipped back and started writing down everything. She thought back to her brief meeting with Samuel before rushing down for lunch. She had told him how Ms. Holland was innocent- Izzy provided her with an alibi during the exact time of the poisoning. Ms. Merriweather also was the one who told her about Mr. Newman’s cheating ways, so she had no motive to kill her after her honest reveal. Plus, the time frame matched up to why Tori still saw her when she was leaving the party. Her phone call was over by then.
Samuel also told her an interesting tidbit of information that made Mr. Stevens an unlikely culprit. He had found a box of love letters from Mr. Stevens to Ms. Merriweather in her room. They went on for two years, and it looked like they were madly in love. Then, in Mr. Stevens' room, Samuel found piles of tissues in the trashcan and a wet, tear-stained pillow on his bed. Tori found it a little hard to believe that a big, wealthy man like him would be so devastated, but one look at his face in the dining room showed that he was genuinely in love with Ms. Merriweather and mourning her. He looked absolutely crushed. He would never be capable of killing his true love.
Nothing new was learned about Mr. Newman or Mrs. Sato in their thorough investigation, but Mr. Newman still had a motive to murder Ms. Merriweather. Thanks to the notes about Ms. Merriweather’s debt, Ms. Hammond was a worthy suspect to investigate further as well. However, what Tori learned about Ms. Richards made her the most suspicious person yet.
The crumpled up piece of paper that she had found in her trash can was actually a reciept for mouse traps from a local hardware store. However, they weren’t normal mouse traps- they had sodium cyanide in them. That meant that Ms. Richards had the motive and the means to kill Ms. Merriweather. Still, Samuel and Tori had agreed to keep investigating until they were completely sure of who was guilty.
Tori shut her notebook closed, finally finished writing the case notes. She noticed that mostly all the guests had left, and Richard was starting to pick up the dirty plates. Her parents had gotten up and were chatting with Mrs. Sato. Samuel’s parents were leaving the dining room, but he stayed back. “Tori, you should talk with Richard. Talking to one of the workers already proved helpful. He was at the party all night- maybe he saw something! We also found out that the police are going to be involved soon too, so now’s your chance!” whispered Samuel.
“Why don’t you talk to him? I already wrote all the case notes.” Tori whispered back.
“My parents are waiting for me to go up to the terrace. My mother said she wanted to spend some ‘quality family time’ or whatever,” he said, rolling his eyes.
As if on cue, Mrs. Gomez called out Samuel’s name. He winked at Tori, and turned around to follow his parents.
Tori walked up, approaching Richard. “Oh, hello Ms. Montgomery.” smiled Richard.
Smiling back, Tori responded, “Hello Richard- please, call me Tori. We’re all friends here- and closer now because of this horrible thing we’re going through. I just can’t believe Ms. Montgomery is- well, dead!”
Richard’s face darkened, but only for a brief second- so brief, in fact, that Tori thought she had imagined it. Then, his face changed to a devastated one. “Oh yes, I know. Absolutely horrid, absolutely horrid. I’ve known her for so long. I used to work for her father in fact, for about a dozen years. When he passed away, I followed her here, and now I can’t even work with her! I couldn’t retire soon anyways, times are tough, but still, it all happened so fast.”
“You’re quite right, it did. Anyway, I’ve heard these rumors- it’s all anyone has been talking about- that she was murdered!” Tori exclaimed. “Of course, it’s all foolish nonsense to me, but if the police get involved, then I don’t know what I’ll say! No one seems suspicious to me. What would you say, Richard?” inquired Tori.
“I don’t like thinking about that.” replied Richard quickly. “I think that Ms. Merriweather would have wanted to just be left in peace. We should all just let her rest, now that she’s gone.” He narrowed his eyes at her playfully. “I noticed that you had a trunk full of detective magazines…are you pretending to solve a crime?”
Tori blushed, her voice wobbling. “Of-of COURSE not, Richard! Why-why would I-”
Richard laughed. “It’s all right. I was a bit of an armchair detective when I was little as well. But don’t get too ahead of yourself. There’s no mystery here, but I’m all for you pursuing those dreams in this modern society. Just remember, instinct is a marvelous thing. It can neither be explained nor ignored.”
“Right.” smiled Tori sheepishly, embarrassed to be caught. “Well. I better be going. Good-bye.”
December 24th, 1921
Tori walked up the circular staircase to the South Wing Terrace. She needed to talk to Samuel about the case. Surely enough, he was standing on the terrace, leaning against the rail all wrapped up in a winter coat, staring down at the village below. His eyebrows were furrowed, which meant he was clearly thinking about the case.
Tori opened the bulky door, and the noise of the hinges shook him from his trace. “Oh, hi Tori.”
“Hi.” The biting cold made her breath appear in the air. She shivered, despite her warm coat. “What were you thinking about? You looked a bit frustrated.”
He sighed. “I am. This case just doesn’t add up. Too many people seem guilty and we can’t seem to narrow it down any further. We can’t talk to them without it looking suspicious, and even if we did no one would admit anything. Spying is our only tactic right now. We’re leaving in a few days- what if we can’t figure it out?”
“If you think like that, then we won’t.” said Tori. “You have to be positive. We’re going to figure it out.”
“There’s something else too, that I forgot to tell you. There was cigarette in Ms. Merriweather’s trash bin. She didn’t smoke- none of the guests smoke, at least not cigarettes. So then whose was it?”
“And another thing.” Samuel went on. “HOW was the cyanide dropped into Ms. Merriweather’s glass? We know about the little piece of paper. We know that it was just her glass because you saw Richard pop open the bottle, and all the glasses were empty. How did the murderer know which one Ms. Merriweather would take? We all saw her take the last one, but no one was at the refreshments table, or even near it. No one approached her before she drank it. So then how?” He shook his head, frustrated. “And one more thing. If Ms. Richards, who is the most guilty suspect by now, was the murderer, what’s her motive? The one who was bothered about people finding out the secret was Mr. Newman, not her. Why would she kill Ms. Merriweather?”
Tori sat down and put her head in her hands. “I have no idea- to anything that you just asked. I never even thought about all that.” She sighed. “Maybe we’re not cut out to be detectives. We’re just kids. What do we know about all of this? It’s too hard.” Tears started welling up in her eyes.
Samuel’s eyes softened. “Well, I didn’t mean it like that.” He sat down next to her, and put her arm around her to comfort her. “I was just trying to think logically. I’m sure we can figure it out. We just have to think outside the box a little, and, you know, trust our gut. You know what they say: ‘Instinct is a marvelous thing. It can neither be explained nor ignored.’”
Tori sat straight up. “What did you just say?”
Samuel blushed, running his hand through his hair. “Sorry, that was a little bit cheesy. It was from that murder mystery that came out last year, by Agatha Christie.”
“No, not because of that…..OH. MY. GOODNESS.” Tori’s eyes widened, and she bounced up from her seat, her curly hair bouncing with her. “I think I just solved the case.”
“What do you mean? You know who it was?” asked Samuel, his eyes shining.
“Well, yes, I think I do! All those points you brought up, they got me thinking. And then the quote…I’ll explain on the way down to the library, I just have to make sure.” she started rushing down the stairs. Samuel followed her down, closing the door behind him. “The library? Tori, what are you talking about?”
December 24th, 1921
Tori swung open the doors of the library, Samuel at her heels. She explained to him everything that she had thought of as they walked down- now she just needed proof. She took off her heavy winter coat, and threw it on one of the sofas. “Now, where do you suppose it is?”
Samuel dropped his coat too, looking around. “This library is huge! If we weren’t so busy looking for a murderer , I probably would have spent the whole holiday here reading. There must be some sort of organization….oh, they’re organized by the author’s last name!”
They walked over to the beginning of the alphabet, looking for C. “Ca, Ce….here it is! Christie!” Tori pulled out the book, “The Mysterious Affair At Styles”. She flipped through the pages until she found what she was looking for. Right there, at the top of page 120, the top corner of the page was ripped out. Samuel’s eyes widened. He took out the small piece of paper that held the cyanide from his pocket, and with trembling fingers, he lined it up to the ripped page.
“Perfect fit.” Tori whispered.
“It appears so…but how did he put the cyanide in her glass without anyone noticing? He was cleaning up the stage after Ms. Richards had gotten off.”
Tori gasped. “The passages! He used the secret passages!”
They took their coats, and ran all the way to Tori’s room. She sat on her bed, and took the blueprints out from under her pillow. “I keep them here in case my mother walks in.”
“Look- this is where the refreshments table was. And look right behind it; there’s an opening to a secret passageway. This one,” Tori said, tracing the path with her finger, “has stairs leading up to Ms. Merriweather’s room-where you saw him-, the servants quarters, and to another secret entrance near the back of the ballroom. He must have dropped the cyanide into the last glass there, since Ms. Merriweather was the only one who didn’t have one, during Ms. Richards performance. No one was watching him then.”
“Right- since he wasn’t seen at the party before he went up the stage, he must have taken the cyanide from the servants quarters, walked down, slipped it into the glass and escaped from the back entrance just in case anyone would see him near the refreshments table.” Samuel added. “Everything makes sense. I can’t believe we didn’t even consider him before!” He slapped his forehead. “But wait- how did the receipt for the mouse traps with the cyanide end up in Ms. Richards’ room?”
“When Izzy, the maid that I talked with, walked in, she said that all the staff members have keys to the rooms. Maybe he used that to plant the evidence on someone else.” suggested Tori. “And also the cigarette in Ms. Merriweather’s room! It must have been his. I remember that he smelled slightly of cigarette smoke when I met him, but I didn’t remember before because of Ms. Merriweather’s overpowering perfume.”
“We- I mean, you’ve got it all figured out! Except for the motive, but still-when are you going to tell everyone?” asked Samuel.
“First of all, I think I’ve got an idea about the motive. I just need to confirm it with someone who was there…I’ll tell you about it later. And second, what do you mean, I’ve got it all figured out? We worked on this case together. If you hadn’t brought up all those questions, I would have immediately blamed Ms. Richards, or Ms. Hammond, or Mr. Newman! Actually, I was ready to give up if it wasn’t for you!”
“Well, yes, but I never made the connection like you did.” He smiled. “I guess we work really well together, don’t we?”
Tori smiled shyly. “I guess we do.”
“Anyways,” said Samuel, “when do you think we should tell everyone? Definitely before the police get here.”
“How about tomorrow morning? At breakfast, when everyone’s together?”
“All right, that seems like a good idea. But wait- tomorrow’s Christmas! Won’t that- you know, darken the mood?”
Tori rolled her eyes playfully. “There’s no better present than a happy ending- except for the culprit, of course!”
December 25th, 1921
Tori sat in her seat, not knowing how to feel. Excited? Sad? Angry? She and Samuel were the first ones in the dining hall for breakfast, and as the guests trickled in and the seconds ticked past, they anxiously waited to share their news.
When her mother walked in, she looked surprised to see Tori there. “I’m glad to see that someone is acting more ladylike, waking up early, having good posture.”
Tori strained a smile at her. “Well, it is Christmas- it’s a special occasion!” Mr. Montgomery walked in behind his wife. “So it is! Merry Christmas, darling!” He hugged Tori and kissed her on the cheek. “Don’t think we forgot about you, amid all this chaos. Your presents are in our bedroom, waiting for you to open. I won’t mind if you open them before breakfast, like we do at home.” he winked.
Tori squealed. “Oh, thank you Father!” She glanced at the full table. All the guests had arrived. Even Richard, Izzy, and some of the other staff were already there. “I’ll get to it after we eat.”
The table was decorated beautifully, with tinsel dotted with holly berries running up and down across it. Candles etched with gold figures stood lit, and an elaborate glass angel stood tall as the centerpiece. The kitchen workers wheeled in carts with an elaborate Christmas breakfast. Waffles decorated with fresh berries, pancakes layered with chocolate and bananas, french toast dusted with cinnamon, scrambled omelets and toast, light and airy crumpets, ornate pots of tea, steamy bowls of oatmeal and glass bowls filled with fruit. Tori’s mouth watered just at the sign of it all. As the workers gave it out, Richard stood in front of everyone and cleared his throat. “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen.”
Samuel caught Tori’s gaze. What’s HE going to say? he mouthed. Tori shrugged. “Esteemed guests,” started Richard, “for starters, merry Christmas!” He smiled, and all the guests clapped. “As you know, Ms. Merriweather was going to give you all gifts for being here with her. However, she wasn’t able to- well, be here with us today.” He said solemnly. But Tori noticed that there was something missing from his “solemn” face, like how Mr. Stevens’ face looked. “We, the staff, will still give you all your presents today at the ballroom. I’m sure that’s what Ms. Merriweather would have wanted.”
“How do you know what Ms. Merriweather would have wanted? You’re the last person here who should talk about her opinion.” dared Samuel, standing up as he said it.
“Samuel- sit down right now.” hissed his mother, tugging at his sleeve.
“No Mama. I can’t. Me and Tori have something important to say.” A dozen heads turned her way. Her mother narrowed her eyes on her. Tori stood up too. “Yes, we do. Richard is acting very devastated for the loss of Ms. Merriweather, don’t you think? But the reason that she’s not here to give us our presents is because of you.” She nodded at Samuel.
“Yes. Because he murdered her.” The whole table gasped collectively. Richard blushed a deep shade of red. “W-what are you children TALKING about? H-her death is no joking matter!”
Everyone went quiet. Suddenly, Tori’s father stood up. “I believe them. My daughter wouldn’t accuse someone like that if she wasn't absolutely sure of what she was saying.” He smiled warmly at Tori, and she smiled gratefully back.
“I believe them too.” said Mr. Stevens, standing up. “My darling Holly should have justice for what has been done to her.”
“I do too.”
“Me as well.”
“Let them continue.”
One by one, the guests stood up, defending Tori and Samuel. Lastly, Mrs. Montgomery stood up stiffly. “I believe them too.”
Richard’s face went from a deep crimson to a deathly pale. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Tori motioned for all the guests to sit down. “Of course you do. You know about much more than you let on, don’t you? The secret passages, for one thing. The guests' secrets, for another.”
Everyone looked at Richard. He stammered, “I-I-I d-don’t…”
“Give us a minute to explain before you start ‘defending’ yourself,” said Samuel. “On December 23rd, 1921, at 7:51 pm, Ms. Holly Merriweather was murdered. She was killed using sodium cyanide in her drink- the type you get from mouse traps.” Izzy gasped. “I saw those in the supply closet! But we don’t have any mice!” Samuel stopped to pull out the piece of paper from his pocket. “This was used to pour it into her drink.”
Tori continued. “None of us saw Richard near the refreshments table doing anything suspicious, right? That’s because he used a series of secret passages contained in this manor. He snuck out through the secret door, poured in the cyanide into the last glass of champagne during Ms. Richard's performance, when no one was looking. Then, he disposed of that piece of paper under the table, where Samuel found it, went back in the secret door, and escaped through another secret exit in the back of the ballroom. That’s why we all saw him there, cleaning up the stage.” All the guests nodded, seemingly remembering how it had all played out.
“At first, we suspected the guests of the attempted murder- not the staff at all.” Samuel continued. “We eliminated a few immediately. Ms. Holland was given an alibi for not being at the scene of the crime, so she couldn’t have done it.” Tori looked over at Izzy, who was staring back at her with wide eyes. Tori went on. “Ms. Sato had nothing against her throughout the whole case. We never really considered her a suspect. Then, one look at Mr. Stevens’ face was all we needed to know. He loved Ms. Merriweather hopelessly, and is greatly mourning her loss.” Mr. Stevens looked down at his lap, his face tear-stained and miserable. “However, we found lots of incriminating evidence against many of them,” said Samuel. He nodded at Ms. Richards and Mr. Newman, who were sitting next to each other. “You both have a relationship, and you don’t want anyone to find out.” All the guests gasped- except Ms. Holland, who just looked mad. “Ms. Merriweather did know, and was threatening to reveal it to the newspapers for money. That gave you both a motive.”
“Furthermore,” Tori continued, “I found a receipt for cyanide mouse traps in Ms. Richards’ bedroom.” Ms. Richards’ gasped. “I-I have no idea who would have put that in there!” she exclaimed.
“Well, it wasn’t you of course,” said Tori. “The staff members have keys to all of the rooms. If it was locked, Richard could have easily planted the evidence on you.” Ms. Richards gave a disgusted stare at Richard, who was looking down, his face red again.
“Anyways, let’s continue,” said Samuel. “We found threatening notes from Ms. Hammond to Ms. Merriweather, who owed her a great sum of money and hadn’t paid her back in time.”
Ms.Hammond spoke up. “That’s true- I did send her a letter. But I would never dream of hurting Holly like that. She’s family.” Tears glistened in her eyes.
Tori nodded. “Yes- but then we thought we would ask Richard to tell us what he saw.” Tori narrowed her eyes at him. “I tried to be subtle, but he knew what I was doing. He tried to lead me off, telling me that there was no case there. But he did give me some advice: ‘Instinct is a marvelous thing. It can neither be explained nor ignored.’” Richard’s mouth dropped, as if remembering his mistake.
“I recognized it from the murder novel by Agatha Christie.” said Samuel. “So, after Tori connected the dots to the case, we looked for the book in the library. Sure enough, the piece of paper used to hold the cyanide fit perfectly.”
“But wait,” started Mr. Stevens, “why would he want to kill Ms. Merriweather?”
“The motive,” explained Tori, “was difficult to understand. But I thought back to something that he himself told me, and something my father said. Richard was a loyal worker for Duke Merriweather for a long time. My father told me when we arrived that Duke Merriweather was practically bankrupt when he died. Holly was going bankrupt as well. And who takes the loss for all the money that these rich people owe? Workers, like Richard.”
She continued. “Like Richard said, times are tough. He said he couldn’t retire yet, even though he’s already older. Years and years of faithful service, and never being paid? This was his way of revenge.” Tori sighed. “And that, ladies and gentlemen, marks the end of the Briarcliffe Case.”
All the guests looked at each other, dumbstruck. How was it that two kids, practically children to them, solved something such as this, in almost a day? Izzy, who had been looking out the dining room window, piped up. “Well, it’s a good thing you did too, because the police just arrived.”
“But wait- one thing still isn’t clear to me.” wondered Samuel. “If you were the murderer, why were you crying when you realized Ms. Merriweather was dead that night?”
Mr. Richard sighed and his soldiers slumped. “I didn’t think it would actually work. I’ve known Ms. Merriweather for ages, but I was so blinded by my rage that I was thinking clearly. When I saw her body there, lifeless, I- well, I realized exactly what I had done.” He sighed again. “Well, there’s no use denying it now. You’ve caught me. I deeply apologize to anyone who was close to Holly. I deserve everything that I will get.”
Mr. Stevens stood up. “I can bring you down to the police, if you’d like.” Richard nodded, and the two men walked out of the dining room.
December 25th, 1921
After breakfast, the guests went back to their rooms, opened their own present from their families, and started packing up to leave. Tori opened her presents with her family: a pack of leather-bound notebooks, new pens of all different colors, mystery books (including “The Mysterious Affair At Styles”) , a bundle of the new issues of Sleuth Magazine, and dresses (from her mother, of course). The guests said good-bye to each other, and left, one by one. Tori noticed that Ms. Holland and Mr. Newman left in seperate cars, instead of the same one as they did when they arrived.
Mr. Garner put the last of their trunks into their car as Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery climbed in. Tori turned to leave, but was stopped before she left. “Tori, wait,” said Samuel.
“Oh, hello Samuel. Well, I think I mean to say good-bye. We’re probably never going to see each other again.” Tori said, smiling sadly.
Samuel frowned. “Probably. It’s a shame too- we worked so well together. I’m going to miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too. But here,” Tori said, pulling out a pencil and a piece of paper from her new notebooks. She wrote down her family’s number. “You can call me, if you ever run into another mystery, or just because.”
Samuel smiled. “I hope I do, and I’m sure I’ll need my detective partner.”
Tori blushed. “Same here.” Samuel pulled something from his pocket. “I got you a little Christmas present.” He gave it to her. “It’s a locket. My father went into town for some food, for the long way home, and I asked him to pick this up for me. I know you don’t really like jewelry that much, but-”
“I love it!” exclaimed Tori. She opened it, and inside found a small photograph of the manor. “So that you don’t forget our first mystery together.” he said, blushing. She gave him a hug, and quickly hopped into the car, waving through the window as Mr. Garner drove away, back down the winding path of Mount Thorn.
“You were right, Mother,” said Tori, holding her locket between her fingers.
“About what?” asked Ms. Montgomery curiously.
“It was definitely a memorable trip.”