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I woke up with a 'what was that!' jerk, realising it had just been a dream, but this time, a useful one, because crazy though it had been, it'd given me a clue about the case I was working on. I was staying in this haunted house see, with six or seven other people and a couple of staff. We'd been trapped by the raging blizzard outside, all of us scared to death because one of us was a murderer.

I got dressed as quick as I could, because it was cold enough to freeze the knackers off a brass monkey. I knew this from the little statue of the three wise monkeys on my mantelpiece, with their paws over their mouth, eyes and ears. I'd examined it closely and none of them had any knackers.

I'd only reached the castle yesterday night, having been delayed by the death of the pilot who was flying the jet I was traveling on. Apparently, he'd been one of the sixteen people who'd eaten the fish. They'd all died too of course, but at the time they weren't really important. I'd reluctantly held up my hand in answer to the stewardess's frantic enquiry as to whether there was anyone aboard who could fly a plane, gut-wrenching memories of 'Nam flooding back, but when I got out my rather moth-eaten picture of my poor dead sweetheart and kissed it, I somehow found the strength to carry on.

My heroism cost me quite a bit of debriefing time when we finally landed, because we had a bomb on board as well, only discovered when the swarthy, Arabic-looking carrier also succumbed to the botulism-laced cutlets of blue-eyed cod. Luckily, the device strapped around his waist had a count-down clock on it, so I knew exactly how much time I had to defuse it. The wires were all colour-coded too which made it easier, but I admit it did get a bit nerve-wracking when the timer reached the last second just as I cut the final red wire, amid a cacophony of frantic screaming from the surviving passengers. They soon calmed down, aided by the lilting, Irish tones of Sister Maria, who accompanied herself on an acoustic guitar.  

We landed without further incident and as I strolled out of the warm terminal into the freezing evening air, it occurred to me that despite the problems we'd encountered, I suppose we'd been quite fortunate in that none of the animals had escaped from their cages in the cargo-hold.

I'd parked the car in a convenient spot right next to the red loading/unloading zone, but for some reason it wouldn't start until I tapped the petrol-gauge three times and then it went fine. The trip up north had gone without incident and the snow'd started falling from a low, leaden sky just as I reached my destination, a crumbling edifice perched on a barren, windswept clifftop overlooking a turbulent, grey lake which I was certain had to be home to at least one survivor from a prehistoric age.

I was shown to my dusty, flagstone-floored room by an ancient, looming butler in a penguin suit who informed me in a deep, sonorous voice that his name was Smithdick, that our unknown host had been delayed and that he was at my disposal. After I'd thanked him, he smiled thinly, bowed half an inch and left, closing the door behind him.

I'd barely started unpacking when a bloodcurdling scream found me haring back downstairs. The rest of the guests were standing around the body of a fat, middle-aged gentleman lying face-down in the middle of the lounge-room carpet. He had something I didn't recognise sticking out of his back, like a giant syringe. I knelt to check for a pulse, but as I'd expected, he was dead as a doornail.

'It's the perfessor!' The information came from the pouting red lips of a young woman wearing far too much makeup and far too little clothing. Her gigantic décolletage bulged out of her impossibly tight, barely fanny-length scarlet dress like over-yeasted megamuffins desperate to escape from their baking trays. Most men would probably have drooled gallons over her, but despite the fact I'm a six foot six jock with a body to die for and a dong like a donkey, I'm gay, so as far as I was concerned, she was just meat.

'My name's Guy,' I offered, 'Guy Lambada. Who are you?'

'Why honey, don'tcher reckernise me?' Her pout got worse if that was possible. 'I'm Desirée Desire!'  She went down another four points to below zero on my intelligence scale when she pronounced it 'Deseray'. She definitely wasn't French.

Our examination of the corpse was interrupted by the appearance of Smithdick, who took a quick look at the body, tutted once and went out again, saying he'd inform cook there'd be one less for dinner.  

'What's that in his back?' This time the questioner was an older woman; short, plump and dressed in a severely-cut, green-tweed pants-suit. She had 'academic' writ large all over her and a Welsh twang broad enough to cover the Black Mountain, or Y Mynydd Du as I knew it. Her finger twitched as she pointed at the strange object.

'It's an anal probe! I've seen one before!'

I knew what he'd look like even before I raised my head to see who was speaking; he'd be nerdy; weedy; thin to the point of disappearing sideways and dead, downright ugly. When I straightened up, he smiled broadly at me from his handsome, green-eyed face as I struggled to take in the bulging body in the clown suit.

'I was kidnapped by aliens when I was thirteen and they used one on me! It was just like that!'

'If it's an anal probe, why's it in his back and not in his anus?'

The clown shrugged, lumpy shoulders jiggling beneath gaily-decorated pom-poms. 'Don't ask me, but that's definitely what it is. I've got one upstairs just like it.' His face fell as I sighed. 'Er ... I'll go and check, shall I?' For a large man, he could move remarkably fast and was back within fifteen seconds. 'It's gone!'

'In that case, I think we've found it already, don't you?' My somewhat sarcastic remark merely produced a bright red face.

'I say ... shouldn't we call the rozzers ... or something?' The young girl in hunting pink with the hoity-toity voice tapped me on the shoulder with her crop. I looked around for her pony but she must have left it outside.

'I tried zis already ... ze lines are most probably down.' The tottery old man with the thick foreign accent waved his cane towards the phone on the side table but it was hurriedly placed back on the floor when he threatened to fall over; he had to be at least ninety and I immediately ruled him out as the probe-wielder … then I chided myself for being hasty and ruled him back in again.

I had my mobile with me and quickly dialed the 555-prefixed number, but as soon as I got through, the signal broke up and the battery went dead.  I belatedly remembered I'd forgotten to pack the recharger, so it looked like we were stuck because no-one else had a mobile … or at least, they wouldn't admit to it.

The roaring fire made it quite warm in the lounge and we finally agreed we had no choice but to store the professor in the fridge until the snow let up and we could call the cops, but when we got him down to the kitchen, not only did the fridge prove far too small but the cook wasn't that keen on the idea anyway.

'No! You no put heem in my freedge! He too beeg! He smell velly bad velly soon! Make food go velly bad!' For someone so small, she certainly could screech and she continued doing it, threatening all and sundry with a wicked-looking cleaver until we reluctantly acceded to her wishes and carried the body back upstairs.

'Why don't we just stick him outside in the snow?' The entirely sensible suggestion had come from a gangly youth in a Yankees track-suit with untidy auburn hair, a million freckles and horn-rimmed, bottle-bottom glasses. He was wearing the longest green scarf I'd ever seen wrapped twice around his neck like some outsized python. I quickly transferred the title of 'nerd' away from the clown and onto the seventh member of our group.

We wasted no time following his bright idea, though I did take the precaution of pulling the probe … if that's what it was … out of the prof's back before we dumped him into a handy drift between the stables and the compost-bins, Desirée showing she was as strong as she was repellent by handling the leggy end all by herself. Despite the darkness, we had no problems until we got halfway back across the yard and she caught one of her high heels in a drain and twisted her ankle. I suffered the nauseating cloud of Chanel Number Five as I helped her inside, but by the time we reached the lounge, she was fine.

'Boy, he sure weighed a ton!' She poured herself a stiff Scotch and sank into a comfy-looking sofa. 'How'd ya know about that pointy thing again? What's ya name, honey?'

The clown wobbled indecisively under her bright, naive gaze. 'It's Reggie; Reggie Bloggs. I do kids' parties and … you know … fairs and things.' He had a broad Liverpudlian accent.

'You was kidnapped by aliens?' Desirée's enormous breasts heaved as she spoke. 'My, that must've been a trial and no mistake!'

'Oh, I quite enjoyed it. All the other kids teased me and mother sometimes beat me with a wooden spoon if I was naughty and my father used to make me go and stand naked in the coal-cellar if I talked to my brother in bed, so when they beamed me up, I really didn't mind.'

'So who were they? What did they want?'

Reggie swiveled his bulk to face the nerd, clutching his scarf like a security blanket. 'What's your name, then?'

'Ginger Limpkin ... you got a problem with it?' What chin the nerd had was stuck out in defiance.

The clown shrugged, like a melting jelly. 'No; I just want to know who I'm talking to. Keep your knickers on, eh?'

'Sorry.' The nerd had enough decency to squirm. 'So go on … tell us.'

'Well, like I said, it happened when I was thirteen. I was asleep and then a noise woke me up, like a buzzing sound. I looked out my window and there was this cone of light on the lawn. I couldn't see what made it because it was too bright, so I got up and went out to have a look and that's when they beamed me up.'

'Good heavens.' The Welsh lady leant forward eagerly. 'I'm Anthea Globus, the author. I write science-fiction books. This is so exciting! Do go on!'

'I must have fainted or something, because I came to on a table thingy with four of them around me, all blue and bug-eyed and tentacles everywhere. That's when they stuck the anal probe in me.'

'Gosh! I bet it hurt like absolute billio!' The snobby girl in the riding outfit cackled like a hen. 'I'm Griselda Cholmondeley-Featherstonhaugh-Marjoribanks, by the way ... just call me Grizzy.' She snorted, actually producing a small amount of snot which she surreptitiously wiped away with a deft forefinger.

'Of course it did, but they took it out again after it beeped and then they all went out and left me there alone.'

'So vot did you do?'  The old man waved his stick impatiently. 'Get on viz it, boy. I haven't got ze time left for longvinded shtories.'

'Well, there was this panel with strange symbols and flashing lights on the wall and lots of buttons like little glowing mushrooms; I just pushed one at random and the door opened and I went out. There wasn't anyone about, so I followed the signs to what looked like the engine room and there was this big gold ball turning around all by itself. Then I noticed this small hole, so I got out a paperclip I had in my pyjama pocket and stuck it in the hole and it stopped humming and blew up.'

The old fellow looked skeptical. 'How it is you vozn't hurt?'

Reggie shrugged again. 'I dunno; it sort of blew up inwards.'

Ginger nodded knowingly. 'An implosion; it happens all the time.'

'Anyway, the ship crashed into the sea and sank. I managed to get into one of the escape pods first of course.'

Ginger frowned. 'What about the aliens?'

'They all dissolved when the seawater hit them; there was slime everywhere. When I woke up naked on the beach, all I found was that.' He pointed to the probe on the table.

It was the old guy's turn to frown. 'You should haf given it to ze police, zen ze professor vould still be alife.'

'That's just silly.' I had to agree with Reggie as he rounded on the nonagenarian, 'he'd just have been killed with something else, wouldn't he? Who are you, anyway?'

'I am Brickilla Dumbrowski. I used to be a top Russian asslete … or vas it a ballet danzer? I forget. I vas quite good at it … vhatever it vas.'

'Well, I'm not letting them have it and that's that. Besides, I plan on taking it home some day and giving my dad a big surprise.'

There was another round of uncomfortable smirks and general facial pinkness, but again, everyone forbore from commenting.

'You called him "The Professor",' I said, turning around to include them all in the query. 'Does anyone know what he did? Where he came from?'

'There's only this …' Ginger held out a sealed envelope. 'I searched his pockets and it was all he had on him.'

I took the envelope and held it up to the light. There was an object inside it, about the size of a business card. I noticed something else too – a thin line of exposed glue showed the envelope had been steamed open and resealed. I decided to dispense with cunning and resort to simplicity, tearing the end of the envelope off and tipping the card out into my palm. Everyone except the semi-mobile Russian craned in for a look. They quickly craned back out again when a cursory examination showed the card to be blank on both sides. I had a glance in the envelope, but there was nothing else inside.

'Hmmmm … curiouser and curiouser.' There were frowns all around now, as everyone seemed to agree with me.

'Maybe it's got secret writing on it,' said Ginger, with typical youthful enthusiasm. 'How about heating it?'

'Oh, I've got something.' Desirée spent twenty seconds searching through her Louis Vuitton Damier Ebene canvas keepall, finally producing an electric hair-straightener.  'Here; try this.'

As ideas go, and particularly ideas from a bit-part actress, it wasn't bad at all. I added five well-deserved points to Desirée's intelligence tally, taking her to a high score of one. She lost it however when the plug proved to be US in design and wouldn't fit the local sockets.

When no-one else had any bright ideas, there was nothing for it but to troop back down to the kitchen and try the stove. We left Mr Dumbrowski in his chair, but not for long – the stove proved to be gas-powered and I was reluctant to expose the card to a direct flame for fear of scorching or actually setting fire to it.

'How about a light-globe, honey? They're usually pretty darn hot.' Desirée zoomed back up to five points with her second bright suggestion in under two minutes. She reached a staggering ten when her idea actually worked, all of us gasping as I held the card close to one of the ceiling lights and  black lettering started to appear.

'I say! Well done old thing!' Anthea's gentle clap to Desirée's back brought a beam of glee to the younger woman's face, but it began to fade even as it appeared, because although the markings on the card were quite clear, they were total gibberish; a jumble of numbers, letters and strange symbols, some even looking like hieroglyphs.

'Anyone ever seen anything like this before?' I wasn't expecting anyone to answer 'yes', so I wasn't disappointed when there were just shaking heads and a chorus of muttered 'no's.

'Look – who put you in charge, anyway?' The shakes turned to nods and the mutters to 'hmmmm's as Reggie's question obviously struck a chord with the others. I got out my leather holder and flashed my National Trust card, which seemed to satisfy them for some reason.

'Okay; now we've got that settled, I suggest we look in the Professor's room. There might be some clue among his possessions. Does anyone know which room he had?'

Naturally, nobody admitted to knowing where the dead man had been housed, so I rang the bell for Smithdick who led all of us except Dumbrowski up the impressive gleaming wooden staircase to the Professor's second-floor suite. I tried the door.

'It's locked. Do you have a key?'

The butler shook his head. 'There is just the one key, sir, which I gave to the Professor on his arrival.'

'Well, he didn't have it on him, so it looks like our murdering friend must have it.' I fished out my wallet and took out my trusty plastic lock-opening card. 'This shouldn't take too long … ah … here we go.'

We quickly established that there was nothing of any interest in the living-room or bathroom – it looked like the poor guy hadn't even had time to settle in, because his still-bulging suitcase sat unopened on the bedroom floor. There were however two items of interest on the dressing table, a small portable safe and a laptop computer.

After establishing that the suitcase contained nothing other than clothing and toiletries, we turned our attention to the safe. It was quite a heavy affair with a rotary combination lock which took me less than two minutes to crack by listening for the telltale click of the tumblers.

'Quick! Open it!' I gave Ginger a withering look as I twisted the handle, but if we were hoping for top-secret papers we were disappointed, because the safe proved to be completely empty.

So, we were left with the computer, quickly booted up by our resident geek, who eventually looked up at me with a frown. 'It looks like it's password-protected.'

'Can you hack it?'

My question deepened the frown 'It might take a while; there's not much to go on.'

We left him to work in peace, but had only just settled back into the downstairs lounge when the sound of heavy footfalls on the stairs precipitated his panting crash through the double doors.

'Got it! Look!' We all crowded round as he placed the computer on the central table. 'Most of it's just ordinary stuff, but have a squiz at what I found in the Secret Plans folder!' I obeyed as did the others, but none of us could make head or tail of the complex designs and equations contained in what appeared to be hundreds of pages, until Anthea's Welsh twang pointed out that some of the symbols were identical to those on the card we'd found in the Professor's pocket.

'It looks like some sort of weapon … that could be a trigger, don't you think?' Ginger's remark drew a sudden gasp from Reggie.

'Yes, you're right! … I've seen it before! The aliens had them, the ones that snatched me!'

'You're kidding! Are you sure?' Reggie winced from my rather heavy-handed clutch at his shoulder and wriggled out of my grasp. 'Yes, and watch it with those big mitts of yours!'

'Sorry; I guess I don't know my own strength sometimes.'

'Mmmmm … you are rather a big boy!'

If it hadn't been for the fact that he was as wide as he was high, I might have responded more favorably to the knowing wink, because he was really quite good-looking facewise, but I've never been into fatties so I just scowled at him and he blushed … and that's when the lights went out.

There were two screams and a few gasps. I thought I heard a door open but the sound was masked by somebody falling over a piece of furniture. Then, just as they'd gone off, the lights came back on again … and the computer had vanished! I helped Anthea up off the floor and out of the shattered remains of a pretty Sheraton side-table, sitting her still gasping back on the sofa. As far as I could tell, everyone else was roughly where they'd been before, so my immediate conclusion was that the computer had still to be in the room somewhere … and then I remembered the noise I'd heard. So … Smithdick or the cook, perhaps?

We spent twenty minutes searching the entire place … as castles go, it was quite petite… but there wasn't a sign of the butler anywhere. It was as if he'd disappeared into thin air. We eventually gave up when cook signaled that our dinner was ready by giving the brass gong in the hall a hefty workout, very nearly giving Anthea apoplexy as we crept along the halls and passageways, searching for the errant servant. The seven of us ate our meal in an uncomfortable silence, punctuated only by Dumbrowski's slurps as he sucked up his soup. I was pleased to find the meal quite excellent, though Desirée said she was allergic to pumpkin and didn't have the first course.

The remainder of the evening was spent talking in shifting groups about this and that, mostly related to our ever-deepening mystery, until Ginger said he was tired and announced he was going to bed. The suggestion seemed to meet with approval from everyone else and we all left the enigma to moulder until the morning, though I did take the precaution of picking up the probe and the strange card to lock away in my room.

I was down to my jocks and about to climb into bed when there was a knock at the door. I opened it to find a young man who I just didn't recognise for a moment, until I realised with a shock that it was Reggie, minus all the fat.

'Can I come in?'

'I … sure.'

I stood aside to let him enter, receiving a second surprise when his hand snaked around behind me and gently squeezed my left buttock. He grinned up at me knowingly. 'I've got excellent gaydar. You are, aren't you.'

It wasn't a question and I found myself nodding before I could stop myself … not that I wanted to, because he was already taking his shirt off over his head, revealing a taut and trim physique which along with his handsome features and pretty eyes, already had me showing attention.

'You almost didn't recognise me without the fat suit, did you?'  He completed his disrobing, then draped himself around my shoulders. 'Mmmm … you smell nice … I hope you're as ready as I am, because I want you.'

Despite his initial squeal of amazement when he found out how big I was, he proved to be wonderfully accommodating, both of us professing extreme satisfaction after exhausting ourselves with multiple orgasms.

'Have you got a man, Guy? I bet you have already, a hunk like you.' He snuggled up next to me and lit two cigarettes, handing me one. I lay there with the ashtray in my groin, wondering whether or not to lie; did I want to encourage or deter him? I turned to look into his green gaze and the grin that turned into a gentle kiss on the end of my nose. Yes, I thought; you'll do nicely.

'I was involved with someone; I loved him very much, but he died three months ago.' I saw a guarded look come over Reggie's features.

'I'm sorry; you must still be in mourning. How did he die?'

'We were skydiving and his parachute failed to open. He managed to pull the emergency cord, but the lines got tangled. I couldn't do anything, just forced to watch as he smashed into the ground. After I'd done an emergency tracheostomy, my poor Harry clung on for almost thirty minutes while I frantically paced about, waiting for the bloody ambulance to arrive. Unfortunately, we were some way from civilization and he died before they got there.'

'Shit; that's awful. I guess you must still miss him.'

'Yup … but I'm getting over it, as you can tell.' I gave him a leer and lick on the ear, raising another squeal of delight as I stubbed out my cigarette, dumped the ashtray on the floor and rolled towards him.

'Oh shit … again?'

We were rudely awaked some time in the middle of the night by an ear-splitting scream, followed by a loud crash and two gunshots. Reggie was all for following me as I struggled into my boxers, but I pushed him back into bed and told him to stay where he was. 'I've only just found you … if there's going to be gunfire, I'm not going to chance losing you.'

'Oh, that's so sweet!'

'Shit … what's up with the lights?' I'd tried the switch, flicking it up and down three times but it refused to work. 'Toss me the lighter, Reggie.'

'Be careful! I don't want to lose you either!'

'I will, lover. Lock the door after me and don't let anyone else in.'

'Don't worry; I won't!'

I heard the lock snib behind me as I crept out into the corridor, the feeble, flickering flame from the lighter a small island of light in the pitch darkness. I could hear some of the other guests stumbling about, whispering and wondering aloud just where the scream had come from.

'Guy? Is that you, honey?'

'Yup. I guess it wasn't you that screamed then?'

'Oh my; ain't you the buff one!' She was close enough for me to see her heaving breasts entirely uncovered by the flimsy red nightie as her eyes drank me in.

'Later, Desirée … someone's in trouble.'

"Mmmmmm … ya know, I thought it sounded a bit like that horsey gal. Her room's that one, down the end there.'

I followed the line of her pointing finger, feeling her hand grip my arm as we crept slowly along the hall-runner. She whimpered as my hand reached out towards the doorknob … and slowly pulled the door open.

I think both of us nearly died of fright when a black shape, all staring yellow eyes and slashing claws sprang spitting and shrieking through the air straight into Desirée's bosom. She promptly added her own shrieks to those of the cat, as the jet-black animal bounced off her and fled yowling down the passageway as if all the devils in hell were after it.

Naturally, I recovered a mite quicker than she did, but nevertheless proceeded into Griselda's now silent room with caution – if there was someone running about with a shooter, I wasn't that keen on being its next victim. I say next, because Griselda lay sprawled across her still made-up bed, blood from the bullet-wounds in her chest soaking through her clothes into the coverlet. I held the lighter higher to get a better look and was nearly deafened as Desirée let out another piercing scream into my left ear.

'Out, Desirée! Go back to your room and lock the door … now, girl!'

Her sobs faded as she hurried out. I felt for a pulse in Griselda's neck, but as I'd suspected, she was beyond help. When I straightened up, the lights suddenly came back on with an eye-narrowing flash and I thankfully extinguished the lighter, by now almost burning my fingers.

'Is she dead?' I swiveled to spot Ginger's head poked around the lintel.

'As the proverbial dodo. D'you do it?'

'Me? You're kidding! I've never even held a gun in my life!'

'Well, one of us did it and it's down to just seven people. Go and wake them up, Ginger. I want them all in the lounge room pronto. Er …'

He'd already turned to rush out, my vocal hesitation making him turn back.

'… Don't worry about Reggie; I'll get him myself.'

'Righto,' and he dashed off down the hallway as Smithdick appeared, looking suitably shocked. I shooed him out as well, directing him to the lounge. He didn't look happy about it, but left nevertheless.

I took further advantage of Desirée's deceptively strong body, Griselda's corpse soon lying next to the Professor's in the snowdrift – they made an oddly assorted pair … apart from the fact they were both dead – and those of us left alive were soon gathered back in the lounge room, though somewhat disconcertingly, no trace could be found of the cook, which worried me. I hoped we weren't going to find her dead as well.

I set Reggie to do the guarding while I went back upstairs and searched everyone's room. I suppose it would have been too much to hope for to find a still-smoking pistol.

Naturally, nobody but me and Reggie had an alibi for the time of the murder – though we weren't about to tell the others what it was – and nearly two hours went by in fruitless argument and speculation. Apparently they'd all been in their own rooms, mostly fast asleep. One of them was lying of course, but who was it? Anthea finally broke the deadlock, announcing with a giant yawn that she was going back to bed … and would definitely be locking her door. Nods from almost everyone else showed they agreed and the meeting broke up as the first gleaming of dawn broke through the windows.

Reggie and I were last out, but as I approached the door he grabbed my arm, a scared look on his face. 'Look! Did you notice?' He was pointing to the fireplace and at first, I didn't spot what he was getting at … and then it hit me. In the centre of the mantel over the fire was a Jewish-style candelabrum with eight arms, each containing a slender red candle. Two of them had been neatly cut through halfway up, leaving just a stump in the holder. Hmmmm … eight guests, two of them now dead.

'Did you see it before?'

'Yes …' he swallowed nervously, '… that's what I meant. I'll swear there were seven full candles yesterday.'

'Yeah … and I'll bet there were eight before the poor old prof got probed.'

We were the last ones upstairs and as we passed his room, he paused, or rather he tried to, perhaps wondering if I'd had enough of him for one night. His semi-querying expression quickly changed to a grin of pleasure as my grip on his arm didn't weaken and he almost tripped over his own feet as I towed him willy-nilly back to my room and dumped him onto the bed, causing squeals of excited mock alarm as I crawled up and over him, growling and gnashing.

'Again? Oh my god!'

Morning brought no let-up in the ever-tumbling snow, drifts building up against the doors and on the window-sills. I'd woken Reggie up for the second time at ten past nine for another round of how's-your-father and had almost finished making my new man even more tired when the phone rang. I reached across him to hoick the ancient bakelite handset out of its cradle, gladly suffering the series of little bites Reggie planted across my chest before he placed his hand over the mouthpiece.

'It's coming from inside,' he hissed, 'the one-two ring?'

I nodded my understanding, whereupon Reggie removed his hand. 'Hello?'

'Is this you, Guy?' The voice was a whisper, barely audible.

'Yes … who's this?'

'It's me … Ginger. I've worked it out, Guy; I know who it is! …' He broke off with a whimper. 'Shit! I think someone's trying to get into my room!'

'So tell me then … who is it?'

'No … not over the phone … they might hear!'

'Ginger … for heaven's sake! Tell me!'

'I … okay … it's … aaaaaaaaaagh …'

The scream was loud enough for Reggie to wince on hearing it. I dropped the phone onto the bedspread and grabbed for my boxers. 'Stay!' I ordered; 'lock the door!'

Reggie's scared nodding accompanied me across the room and I heard the lock click behind me as I exited into the still gloomy hallway. Ginger'd been housed barely thirty feet down the hallway, but again I was forced to dodge both Desirée and Anthea who'd presumably been woken by the strident yell, but quickly obeyed when I shooed them back to their rooms. Ginger's door was wide open but it didn't matter – I knew before I'd set foot inside that he wasn't ever going to need privacy again. Like Griselda, he was lying on the bed, but in this case his head had been almost severed by the blade which had cut his throat. There was surprisingly little blood, indicating that he'd died pretty much instantly. I searched the room, finding nothing to indicate a possibly culprit, closing the door behind me before returning to Reggie.

'Is he dead?'

'As a dodo. Somebody cut his throat.'

'Ugh!' Reggie's hand made an involuntary move towards his own prominent Adam's apple. 'I'm scared, Guy; are we all going to die?'

'Not if I can help it, sweetie. Keep your pecker up.'

The three remaining guests were already in the loungeroom when Reggie and I got there. I noticed that Smithdick was also present, but only in passing. Like Reggie's, my eyes were immediately drawn to the candelabrum on the mantelpiece, a sinking feeling in my stomach perfectly timed to his intake of breath and sudden clutch at my hand. At the time, I didn't realised we'd just outed ourselves, because quite frankly, the sight of a third truncated candle had quickly driven anything less significant from my conscious thoughts.

'Shit, Guy … it's real!'

'Yeah, little one … it sure looks like it.' I gnawed at my lip for a moment or two, during which time Reggie finally let go of my hand and perched on the arm of the sofa next to Desirée, looking up at me expectantly.

'Mr Smithdick, would you please go and fetch cook for me?'

'As you wish, mister Lambada.'  Another minute bow from the tall butler preceded his exit, the door closing silently behind him.

'Who's doing this, Guy? Who's trying to kill us?' Anthea sat aquiver on the edge of wickerwork chair, her writhing hands crumpling a pale green handkerchief.

'For all I know, it's you Anthea … or Desirée here.'

'Oh thanks a mill, hon! Are you perhaps forgettin' I was in Miss Whatsit's room with you when we found her?'

'Nope … but I do know you're strong and fit.'

'What about Dumbrowski then?' She glared up at me defiantly.

'Look at him, Desirée. The man can barely walk; the guy we're after is fast.' We both turned our attention to the subject in question, to find he'd fallen asleep. It could have been an act I suppose, but the snores sounded kosher and the slight drooling also looked authentic. Desirée's lips adopted an expression of disgust, quickly banished by a timid knock on the door.

'Enter …'

Cook sidled hesitantly around the slowly opened door, appearing suitably scared. She didn't give me a chance to sit her down and attempt to put her at her ease, a stream of semi-incoherent pigeon English flooding from her before she'd set a foot in the room.

'I not know. It not me. I cook; I not know nothing. I sleep. I not go out. 它必須是一个您。'


She looked suitably surprised to find I spoke fluent Cantonese, as of course did Reggie and the others. I'd ignored cook's blatant suggestion that the killer had to be one of we five, intrigued to find that she'd come up alone and that Smithdick hadn't reappeared. Her shrug in answer to my question as to his whereabouts suggested she didn't know and didn't care. I continued to question her about the murders, discovering only that she was a very heavy sleeper and had once snoozed through a magnitude 7.2 earthquake while her parents' house disintegrated around her. I finally let her go back to her duties when she pointed out that I was holding up breakfast.

Desirée and I dumped Ginger in the rapidly-filling snowdrift, returning to the lounge room just in time for cook's latest offering. Predictably perhaps, it was kippers – I ate my two thinking that the last thing I needed was a couple of red herrings. Most of us had repaired to the dining room to eat, but Dumbrowski'd elected to have his where he was, which proved to be his undoing, though we didn't realise it for about an hour when Anthea's piercing shrieks brought me, Desirée and Reggie charging back into the lounge room.

'He's dead!'

I have to admit my first look was towards the candlestick rather than the Russian, where as I'd half expected, all four candles on the left hand side were now curtailed. As my gaze switched back, Reggie's hand stole into mine, a look of mixed disgust and horror on his face … Dumbrowski had been suffocated with his herrings, both of them crammed into his throat with only the tails sticking out of his mouth, which was bulging in sympathy with his agony-filled eyes.

'That's it, Guy … I've had enough of this crap!' Desirée's breasts heaved with determination. 'You can stay here and die if you want, sweetie, but I'm fuckin' off right this damn minute.'

'The nearest village is five miles away, Desirée. I doubt you'd make it in this weather.'

'I don't give a rat's arse, darlin'. I ain't staying here t'be filleted!'

Both Reggie and Anthea were staring in astonishment at the suddenly vociferous starlet, but their gazes quickly returned to me with my next pronouncement. 'Besides, there's no point – I've solved the case.'

'Huh?' It was a three-way exclamation from all of them at once, followed by demands for me to elaborate.

'Easy … the butler did it.'

'Smithdick?' Reggie frowned. 'How do you know? How d'you know it wasn't the cook?'

'That's the point; it was the cook.'

'But … that's crazy!' I could see Anthea and Reggie agreed with Desirée's outburst, as they exchanged frowning nods.

'Not at all … you see, Smithdick and the cook are the same person.'

There was silence for a couple of seconds, then Desirée exploded with a snort. 'That's impossible … he's six foot four and she's four foot six, for God sakes!'

'Nevertheless …'

I hadn't heard the door behind me open, but the looks on the others' faces finally alerted me to the fact that we weren't alone.

'Very clever, mister Lambada …' Smithdick was standing in the doorway, a revolver in his hand and a smirk on his face. Needless to say, it was pointed at yours truly. 'May I ask how you worked it out?'

'Simple, really. I knew it wasn't me or Reggie, and fast though Desirée is, not even she could move that quickly. I still wasn't sure until this morning though, when Dumbrowski was eliminated and I noticed at breakfast that Anthea is left-handed. Ginger was killed by a right-handed person.'

'Ah … I see. I'm afraid it's not going to help you a great deal however … now, now … don't fidget, or I'll shoot you right this minute.'

'I have a feeling you're going to anyway … but why? Why all the carnage?'

'Misdirection, mister Lambada; smoke and mirrors, that sort of thing. Only one of you is the real target, the rest are just … how shall I put it?'

'Red herrings?'

'Oh, very good, mister Lambada!'

'So who's the real target then?'

'You mean you haven't figured it out yet? Tut-tut, and I thought you were quite the sleuth!'

'I guess it has to be the professor, with his secret formula.'

Smithdick laughed. 'That idiot? Oh my goodness no!'

'So who, then? Desirée? Me?'

'No … it's me he's after.' All eyes switched to Anthea as she slowly rose from her chair. 'How long have you known, Smithdick?'

'Just a few months, madam, but of course, we've been hunting for you for decades.'

Anthea shrugged. 'But why, Smithdick? I've made no claims to anything, nor do I intend to.'

'Your mere existence is an embarrassment to my masters, madam … and one to which I am about to put an end.'

'Hang on …' Smithdick's calm gaze turned to face me. 'What's this all about? Who is she?'

A sardonic smile touched Smithdick's lips. 'Why don't you tell them, madam? After all, they're not going to live to reveal your little secret.'

Anthea sighed, then sat down again. We watched as her shoulders straightened, a proud look coming over her features. 'I am Vera Ekaterina Romanov, the only daughter of Her Imperial Highness, the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicholaievna Romanov.'

'And we can't have you popping up and making claims for the Russian throne, now can we, princess?' Smithdick made 'I'm about to shoot' gestures.

'Hang on a mo …' The gunman paused, his eyes flicking momentarily to Reggie, who'd raised a tentative hand. 'I thought the latest tests had proved all the Romanov family was accounted for?'

Smithdick sneered. 'Really, little clown; do you think such things are not easy to arrange? A document altered here; an experimental result manipulated there?' The gun twitched in his hand. 'Enough of this time-wasting … goodbye, Russian pig!'  

A shot rang out and I couldn't help my gaze switching towards Anthea … and then I couldn't help wondering why she wasn't falling down. A gasped ' Oh my God' from Desirée helped supply the answer when I turned back towards Smithdick, who'd collapsed to his knees with an astonished look on his face, the gun falling from his hand as he slowly toppled forward onto the carpet. Desirée's gasp hadn't been aimed at him though, but at the person standing behind him with a still smoking pistol in her hand – none other than Griselda Cholmondeley-Featherstonhaugh-Marjoribanks.

'But how? You were dead! Who are you?'

Griselda put her cup down on its saucer with a smile. 'As to who I am; if I told you, I'd have to shoot you as well.' The smile broadened to a grin. 'Suffice it to say that we've been on Smithdick's trail for some time … that's not his real name of course. We've always known about Anthea's background, but we're satisfied she poses no … how shall I put it? … diplomatic problem?'

'But honey, you were shot twice. I carried you outside myself!' Desirée's objection drew another smile from Griselda.

'I was wearing a bullet proof vest of course. After Smithdick shot me and left, I had only a few seconds to scatter the blood around and take the capsule which would make me appear to be dead. After I woke up in the snowdrift, I got back into the house through the garage and hid until Smithdick made his move.'

I glanced at the dead butler, still lying on the carpet. 'Come on Desirée; give me a hand.'

The weather had done a remarkable job of clearing up overnight, the ladies having already departed before noon. Reggie and I'd spent a lazy morning in bed, making love; I'd asked him to come and live with me and he'd accepted immediately, a big grin almost bisecting his face as we continued packing. He'd apparently come up by train and taxi, so we had only my car to load up before we left.

'Should we call the cops, d'you think?' He looked back towards the castle as I drove out of the carpark.

'I think not, my sweet … unless you fancy hours and hours of interrogation.'

'Um … no; perhaps you're right.'

'Talking about interrogation … what about that alien abduction thing? Was that real?'

He giggled and squeezed my left leg. 'What do you think? Of course not! It's all part of my act!'

'Ah … and the anal probe?'

'I just cobbled it together from bits and pieces.'

'I noticed you didn't pack it … why'd you leave it behind?'

He looked at me with a sly grin on his face. 'I don't need it now, do I; I've found a better one.'

An older piece, completely redone for #Indie-Ventures 'Inverted Cliché' short-story collection.

The cliché-inversion here is doubled - not only is the hunky hero gay, the whole tale is composed entirely of clichés - at my last count, 84 of them!

[Word-count: 7532]
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Dream-deepSEAlien Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2014
"I woke up with a 'what was that!' jerk, realising it had just been a dream, but this time, a useful one, because crazy though it had been, it'd given me a clue about the case I was working on."=All dreams have meaning no matter how crazy they are. Once one properly understands how to translate them many life changing opportunities arise. Dreams are so much more than "just a dream".
agrisea Featured By Owner Oct 8, 2011
cute story
Centauran Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
I just couldn't fit another cliche in!
Castallan Featured By Owner Oct 4, 2011
Maybe its cuz the short paragraphs, or the super fast pace of the plot, but some how, i read this with the image of the high school gossip queen on their phone, jabbering away a mile a minute, moving from topic to topic very smoothly, yet with lightning speed.

That dose not mean, however, it wasnt fun to read. heh heh, truth be told, i had more fun reading this then many of the books ive read in the past. Made me giggle.
Centauran Featured By Owner Oct 5, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Giggles is what it was all about, so I'm very happy!
GoldenAngelDragon Featured By Owner Oct 3, 2011  Student General Artist
Thanks i needed that imagination1It warmed me up and helped me try and finish my dragon
Centauran Featured By Owner Oct 4, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
LOL - thank you - I'm glad it helped!
GoldenAngelDragon Featured By Owner Oct 5, 2011  Student General Artist
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