Reader-Solve Mystery - Episode 1
So if you’re here, ready to read this episode of GONE IN A FLASH, I presume you’ve read the rules of the contest here. If you haven’t, please do. Basically, I’ll post an installment every Wednesday from now through March 5. To enter the contest, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your guess as to who dunnit no later than MARCH 11. On March 12, I’ll post the final episode in which I solve the mystery. On the line, a honking big $100 Amazon gift card.
Without further ado, I give you Episode 1.
GONE IN A FLASH
Episode 1 of 5
I was in charge of hiring the stripper. Ah, if I had a nickel for every time I volunteered for that duty …I’d spend it on better-looking strippers.
But I digress.
Why the happy volunteering?
First, I hate making cheese trays. Second, no one ever trusts me to pick up the cake (people usually liked for it to arrive whole, not with a well-iced end cut off). And third, I get to pick out the stripper
And I was throwing in pigs-in-a-blanket too.
The hors d’oeuvres! What kind of a party did you think I was talking about here?
Sounds like a fun evening, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.
So then why was I currently sitting in the bedroom of this luxury suite of Marport City’s poshest hotel? And why was there a crying young woman in a sparkly gold mini-dress beside me?
’Cause I’m Dix Dodd. And trouble seems to find me.
I pulled in a breath, and drew up my patience. “Tell me again what happened.”
My statement was directed at the semi-hysterical, totally tipsy redhead beside me—Rhianna Bee. All of twenty two, the girl was sobbing into her hands. To tell you the truth, I would be a little freaked out myself if I were her.
It wasn’t every day that a ginormous and horribly expensive diamond ring went missing, and you were the last one to have custody of it.
Beyond the closed bedroom door, I heard the sounds of happy laughter. Oh yes, the small party was in full gear. They were playing a shots game. Every time someone said the name of someone else in the room, she took a drink. By the sounds of the rising hoots out there, someone had just set themselves up to tip one back. Yes, we had been at it for a while and I was a little tipsy myself, but hey, it was a bachelorette party.
Who’s bachelorette party?
The one and only Elizabeth Bee’s.
Elizabeth had snagged herself a wealthy old guy—Hugh Drammen. The courtship had been brief and the engagement short; the wedding was next weekend. Did I mention Hugh was really old and really rich? He’d insisted his bride-to-be have a ‘little do with the girls’ before the wedding, on his dime. Thus, this bachelorette affair was thrown together, pretty damn quickly.
There were just a handful of us there: me, Elizabeth’s cousins from Michigan—Rhianna and Shelby Bee, Rochelle—whom I’d invited, and Alyssa Kent. Alyssa was Kenny Kent little sister. Kenny Kent was the caterer in charge of the wedding. Little sis had brought along the tastiest cake—yes, complete with mile high icing. It was … um … inappropriately decorated. That’s right. The bakery had airbrushed a picture of a bare-chested Justin Bieber on the top.
Alyssa was working for her brother now, and that was how she’d snagged the invite. Or rather the invite had snagged her. Kenny Kent had gotten the ginormous and lucrative contract to cater the Bee-Drammen wedding. As clear as it was that Elizabeth needed ‘fillers’ for this party, it was just as clear that Alyssa was such a filler. Oh, and even more obvious: Alyssa Kent did not want to be here. Argh! And she never stopped complaining: I’m getting a cold; I have such a sore throat; stop elbowing me, Dix Dodd. Blah blah blah.
Me? Well, at least Elizabeth and I knew each other. We weren’t close close, but then again, was anyone close to the mysterious Elizabeth Bee? Rhianna and Shelby, though more than happy to be flown in, pick out party dresses, and stay at this luxury suite Hugh Drammen had arranged for the night, they were definitely more interested in the partying than they were in the party-ee, namely their cousin.
From the contented smile that had been on Elizabeth’s face all evening, I knew it didn’t bother her one bit that this gathering Hugh had insisted upon turned out to be small and decidedly not intimate.
But from what Rhianna was telling me now, that smile might very well soon vanish.
I handed Rhianna a wad of tissues and she wiped her nose. “What am I gonna do, Dix?”
Yes, I could’ve pointed out that saying my name would cost her a drink. But I didn’t. More for me later on.
“Start at the beginning,” I said. “Tell me every little detail and—get off my leg!”
The latter direction wasn’t for Rhianna, but for Bolt, her sister’s overzealous, happy-to-meet-me pug who’d started romancing my leg.
Yes, that’s right, a dog in this outrageously expensive, elegant hotel room. Apparently Shelby Bee couldn’t come unless her beloved pug could accompany her. When she’d checked in, she’d told the desk clerk that Bolt was some sort of service dog, a completely unnecessary and transparent lie. Considering that Hugh Drammen had booked the suite personally, I’m guessing Shelby could have brought three lamas and a lame goat in here and no one would complain.
“Bolt, leave it!” Rhianna commanded. The little dog backed himself down off my leg. “Go … go eat or something.” Shelby pointed to the exquisite china bowls the kitchen had sent up for the dog’s food and water. “Typical male—one or the other always on their mind.”
For a dog named Bolt he wasn’t exactly the fastest moving beast on four legs. When he went to the closed bedroom door and whined, I got and let him out. He sauntered out the door to join the party in the living room. I sat back down on the bed and watched as he made a straight line to the coffee table to steal a piece of cheddar left on a napkin. Then he turned to a decorative pillow that had fallen off the couch and started humping it.
Yup. Boy dog.
“The ring was right there in my pocket.” Rhianna pointed to the pile of coats in the corner. We’d all met at the bar downstairs, then come up to the room together, and tossed our coats on the suitcase rack in the corner. That once near-tidy pile of coats.
Rhianna and I had just spent a few frantic minutes going through the pockets, shaking those coats out. Lipsticks and coins and keys.
Not a damn thing of interest hit the floor, and that was the scary part.
And certainly no honking big diamond ring had.
I double-checked Rhianna’s coat pocket myself and found it damp. Well, I guess I’d have sweaty palms too if I’d just lost a ring that probably cost tens of thousands of dollars. Maybe more. Maybe a lot more. Rhianna must have checked and re-checked that same pocket a half-dozen times, hoping against hope she’d somehow missed it.
“Why the hell would Elizabeth take it off?” I mumbled.
“Hello? The whole bachelorette/one-last-free-night thing,” Rhianna said. “It’s a family tradition. Diamonds off. Easier to party, you know? Guilt free. She passed her ring to me at the bar—I was supposed to be the official keeper. I’m the oldest cousin and it’s–”
“Family tradition,” I said.
Wow and yikes rolled into one. No way would I have let such a rock out of my sight had I been responsible for it.
But the rest of it made perfect sense. Tuck away the diamonds, pull out the booze and bring on the stripper. Last hurrah before the ring goes on permanently. Oh yeah, I totally got it. It was a night to leave the menfolk home.
Dylan would be along any time. Like I said, I committed to bring pigs-in-a-blanket. Who did you think was making them?
Rhianna continued. “So I came in here to check my make-up in the mirror.”
“Why didn’t you use the bathroom mirror?” I asked. “Better lighting, isn’t it?”
“Alyssa was in there. God, like forever!”
Fair enough. “Okay, so you came in here and–”
“I thought I’d better check on the ring. I just had this funny little feeling, you know what I mean?”
As the undisputed Queen of Intuition, I so knew what she meant.
“When Elizabeth gave me the rock, I slid it into my coat pocket. And I know I had it when we all left the bar. I checked. But now … now…” Words drowning in the sobs, she pointed to the mess of coats on the floor. “I freaked out when I couldn’t find it. Fa-reaked. That’s when I opened the door and waved at you to come in.”
“And you called me in because…?”
She reached into her bra and pulled out a card. The nine of hearts. (That’s right, the strip poker game hadn’t exactly gotten off the ground.) Then she pulled out my business card. But it wasn’t one of my new cards. It was definitely an older one. Oh yes, I remember that motto; Dylan had picked it out: There’s power in the truth. Let Dix Dodd empower you.
“This was in Alyssa Kent’s pocket when I searched the coats,” Rhianna said. “I … I saw you were a PI and thought maybe you could help.”
God, I hoped so.
Rhianna put her head down into her hands. I put my arms around her. No, dear God not for comfort (that’s Dylan’s role in our dynamic duo). But like, I said, she was a little on the tipsy side, and I didn’t want her to tip right off the bed.
’Cause I’d have to pick her up.
“There, there,” I said. Hey, that sounded almost sincere. Borderline natural. So I said it again. “There, there …. there.” Wow, this was easier than I thought! I was killing this comforting thing!”
Rhianna started to cry all the harder. “Elizabeth will kill me when she finds out.”
“Finds out what?
Rhianna and I both looked up. Oh, God, the bride-to-be was standing in the doorway. Earlier, whenever I’d looked in Elizabeth’s general direction, my eyes had been drawn like magnets to the incredible gravity-defying feats her tiny, strapless black and gold dress was pulling off.
Now, however, her facial expression commanded all of my attention.
# END OF EPISODE #