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Archive for May, 2021

The Millennium Prize (part four) ©

Det. Cosgrove was sitting in a smaller meeting room with Con. Doyenne, when the forensic pathologist made an appearance. His preliminary diagnosis was that Banks’ died primarily from a poison administered in beer, almost definitely a plant based derivative. His likely candidate was moonseed. There was a slightly unpleasant smell to it, perhaps mitigated by its scent of honey, found on the spoon next to the bottles. Given the tight time frame of the events, he couldn’t at this point narrow time of death beyond a window wide enough for multiple second party scenarios. There didn’t appear to be any prints on the beer bottles or the glasses aside from the victim’s. The detective showed the doctor the small piece of, presumably, beer label, and pointed out the slightly embellished metallic scent. A quick inspection by the pathologist provided an opinion that there could be a higher content of lead or cadmium, commonly found in such labels, than usual.    

While her boss was mulling this over, Con. Doyenne fleshed out her main report from her search upstairs.

The lodge abode of treasure hunt winner Stanley embraced contradiction. On the one hand, a thick lined pad filled with notes and speculations about Y2K fallout, on the other, a pair of gaudy, celebrity jackets, each worth at least five figures, hanging in the closet. On his desk was a Hamleton ATAS club ten year anniversary pin. In Ms. Quinn’s room the constable found a guide concerning auctions and collectibles shows coming up in 2000. Circled, with maroon ink, were ones featuring vintage watches. Sanders’ room included a display case with bottles of Macallan, Glenfiddich, and Bowmore brand whiskies, plus two six-packs of lager beer, a dark one and a fruit infused one, both apparently unopened. On Currie’s desk there were half a dozen eight by ten colour prints of antique furniture, specifically clocks. In a briefcase were photocopies of other prints akin to Poe or Lovecraft, similar to those of Banks. Next to the briefcase was a large bowl of pretzels. Aside from expensively finished miniatures of classic cars, parked on desks and tables in Blackburn’s room, the noteworthy item was his club ten year anniversary pin. The unretrieved clue sheets were found in the accommodations of Ms. Heath and Broughton, along with lists of five expensive wines, hers whites, his reds.                

Det. Cosgrove sat, musing, “The murderer coordinated extracting those documents, and putting Banks out of commission, so quickly and quietly”

Feeling an opening, Con. Doyenne said, “Whoever it was, how could he or she be able to open the case, sir? As we know, the director put the one and only key in the lodge safe, at the request of Mr. Banks. He closed and locked the portfolio. Director Ryder, just before leaving the room with the victim’s key, stated he happened to glance as Mr. Banks was closing it, and he swears there were several documents in each pocket.”    

“Let’s have another look at that portfolio case.” The detective picked up the key from the lodge safekeeping, and led his assistant briskly upstairs. 

Before opening the case, they made a thorough search of the room, but found nothing helpful, certainly no other keys. Det. Cosgrove examined the portfolio case. Clearly it required the right key. He looked assiduously at the aperture, and found a microscopic scratch. But it was problematic that this was meaningful, since a clarification would not be coming from Banks. He used the key to open the portfolio case. An extremely high quality, gilt lining, with leather lined pockets was revealed. Letters of Intent, and projections concerning possible Y2K scenarios, were in one embossed pocket. The other slot stood out like a mini, abandoned closet. As Con. Doyenne concluded her search elsewhere, the detective sat in an easy chair and surveyed the scene.

Another issue. Banks apparently died after drinking beer spiked with poison, its sour taste muffled with honey. Why would Banks even drink something that didn’t taste right in the first place? Wouldn’t he be suspicious?

Could any of them be ruled out? One parameter was opportunity. As things stood, no one was eliminated yet.

Det. Cosgrove asked the lodge director to see him. “Would any member be able to gain access to what you secured in your safe, by a request on behalf of another?”

Corban Ryder looked back with a mix of horror and concern. “I don’t know if this is supposed to be some kind of a test, detective, but no, only the member can request direct access to his or her valuables. Unless the person is assigned power of attorney. And even then…”, he trailed off, seemingly uncomfortable with such a possibility. He shook it off, and resumed, “Before you ask, detective, let me assure you I speak for my employees in following responsible procedure.”

“Thank you, we’ll take it on your word for now. Please send Mr. Blackburn back here.”

Blackburn returned looking a little frustrated. “How can I help you now, detective?”

“Mr. Blackburn, I need contact information for Mr. Banks, particularly his personal  assistant or associate back in town. A couple of issues to follow-up.”

Det. Cosgrove spent almost twenty minutes on the phone, mostly with Banks’ assistant. The detective seemed satisfied as he hung up the phone. He looked at the constable. ‘”Let’s go back upstairs and have another look in a couple of the rooms.”

“Then I want to see all of them in the conference room.”

An atmosphere combining expectation and discomfort hung over the surviving members of the Hamleton ATAS club assembled around the conference table. None, however, seemed to want to betray their feelings, so a glance would have found a sea of stoicism, at least superficially. Det. Cosgrove, flanked by Con. Doyenne and Alina Munroe, clutching her ever-present notepad, slowly gazed around the room. As the detective spoke, his deliberate delivery pierced the air.

“We have a particularly challenging situation here, ladies and gentlemen. I’m not going to waste time, there are logistical considerations. Given the time frame and proximity of the crime, you all appear to have had opportunity to do in Mr. Banks. Let me be clear, I’m convinced this is a murder, and at least one of you is involved in it.”

“As far as motive is concerned, we’re looking at shades of black. Groups of investors like yourselves naturally have reason to worry about what could actually happen around the world January first. In that sense, anyone in the developed world has a stake.  However, when we consider your exposure individually, it seems likely that your perceived level of exposure coincides with the amount of your interaction with Mr. Banks. Some of you reacted to Banks’ intentions as more of a threat. Nevertheless, each of you has reason to feel at least some degree of peril. Potential motives.”

“A corollary issue is the significance of the stolen papers from the victim’s portfolio case, and what happened to those papers. It seems certain that these were more important than the letters of intent which were not taken. We can assume they directly tie-in to motive.”

“We now come to the third ingredient of the murder triumvirate, means or method. It’s in this analysis things will become clearer as to who is guilty.”

“In short, underlying this investigation are the questions of, how exactly were the murder and thefts perpetrated, and where are the containers of the poison and the stolen papers now? ”

Det. Cosgrove waited for reactions. He settled for a rapt audience.

He resumed. “What we have ascertained includes the following.”

“At least two of you were seen confronting the victim at the cocktail party, namely, Mr. Sanders and Mr. Stanley.  But, of course, one or more of you might have done the same less obviously, there or elsewhere. Some of you have admitted this. I have discovered, for instance, that at least Mr. Blackburn and Mr. Stanley are long time members, presumably somewhat proudly so in view of having brought your ten year pins here. How much is the stability and integrity of the club at stake, as far as you gentlemen are concerned? Whatever everyone’s responses during our interviews, the fact is I can’t rule any of you out in terms of access to the victim around the time of the murder. If this was accomplished as seamlessly as it appears, the chance to have done so unseen is real.”

“Now, what is the most likely composition of the missing papers? Something to do with the missing prints? I think not. Considering the juxtaposition to the letters of intent, which by definition are intentions, not done deals, it’s very probable the missing documents represent decisions actually taken – namely, sell orders he intended to put through tomorrow!”

“Speaking of the three prints found in the rooms of Ms. Quinn, Mr. Currie, and Mr. Stanley, I suspect this was primarily intended to muddy the waters, little more. By the way, I assume you all appreciate, and have no objection, to the fact that the constable and I conducted thorough searches of your rooms.”

“I also believe the bottles of beer and glasses on the bar next to the body served as a diversion, that is, not the real source of the poisoning.”

Det. Cosgrove was a little annoyed to see that the dynamic of his control was being breeched. Broughton periodically glancing at his portable computer. Ms. Heath secretly flipping coins. Blackburn mentally working on, perhaps, his next agenda. Currie fantasizing, probably, about a world of antique stores selling netherworld mementoes. The detective stared, shrugged, and continued.

“What we have ascertained about the murder is that the victim ingested a small amount of alcohol, specifically beer of an unknown variety, laced with a plant based poison and honey. Only the spoon on the scene of the crime indicates this. It’s not even certain, at this time, the poison on the spoon is the same as what did in the victim. The two open bottles hold no scent or taste of poison. Since I maintain it’s not on the bar, where is the bottle with the poison? With respect to the physical scene, the lack of mess or damage implies that the final drink of Mr. Banks was held in otherwise cordial circumstances, meaning in all likelihood with a well-known acquaintance from whom immediate threat was not apparent. Somehow he was persuaded to let down his guard, at least concerning his taste buds. He allowed himself to drink a potion posing as a flavoured beer.”

“It’s also apparent that the murder occurred smoothly and efficiently for the murderer, to the extent of being undetected long enough to give Banks the fatal drink, set up the death scene, meanwhile opening the case and escaping with the missing documents. Plus, of course, the poisoned bottle.” Det. Cosgrove deliberately stopped to look around at the members as he said, “Save for overlooking a portion of a label, found on the floor in the washroom.”

The detective slowly drank a glass of water. An air of nervous expectation re-emerged as the distracted members quietly refocused.

He continued, “Expertise was required in accomplishing the two actions in Banks’ room. Opening the case without a key and without damaging it for one. Successfully administering the poison, then hiding it quickly and securely enough.”                           

“Anyone have any thoughts?”

(end of part four)

The Millennium Prize (part three) ©

The detective sat on one side of the large conference room table. He and Ms. Munroe conferred for several minutes, Cosgrove doing most of the asking, mainly about her observations of the guests, she referring at times to her notes. An important point was that Banks had told the lodge director he always kept his wallet, chequebook, rings, and keys in a safe place on trips because he had a fear of losing them, and would retrieve them from the lodge safe as needed. When Cosgrove held up to her the piece of label found in Banks’ room, using small tongs, she confirmed that it did seem the same as the lodge’s own ‘Pine Needle’ brand, but the colour seemed outdated. She was released to resume her monitoring.

Ms. Munroe sat outside the room, in company with the members, who were waiting uncomfortably, like patients for their doctor.

“Mr. Blackburn, I would like to speak with you first,” stated Det. Cosgrove.

Blackburn nodded vaguely.                                            

“Now, down to specifics. I understand you to be main organizer of this conference. You ran the agenda.”

“That’s essentially true. As far as the agenda goes, to be fair, we did get off topic a few times.”

“Primarily thanks to Mr. Banks?”

“Particularly when the subject of Y2K came up, or veered anywhere near it. He was certainly the most paranoid of any of us. He’s known – was known – as a morose, fearful person, although apparently a great conductor. Some financial success at least. He carried an umbrella of negative expectation, worrying about his wine collection taking a major hit. I heard he was thinking of liquidating some of his stock by Friday, tomorrow.” Blackburn seemed to relax a little, engaging more direct eye contact. “On the other hand, I’m sure he was really hoping not to lose that bottle of Dom Pérignon Rosé, although it was his choice to pick that as the prize in the treasure hunt. Definitely a mercurial personality, you could say.”

“Was there anyone he was particularly talking to about his Y2K worries?”

“Probably everyone, at some point. I did see Ty Stanley and a couple of others at the cocktail party having a bit of a spirited chat with him. They talked awhile.”

“What others?”

“I think I saw Cameron and Tory there, Dave maybe.”

“What about you? Did you have a debate with Banks about this Y2K issue?”

“No, not really, much. We all had some discussion, of course, during our meetings. You can appreciate our having concerns. Me, I try to be a glass half full guy. Occupational hazard, I suppose, I’m a real estate agent. No matter what happens with Y2K, people will want property.”

“What about during that so-called treasure hunt this afternoon? Did you meet with him in his room after it started?”

“What makes you think that?” Blackburn paused, then shot back, “Say, what do you mean downgrading our prize hunt? It’s a rite we proudly hold at the end of each year.”

Det. Cosgrove bristled. “Let’s focus on the important issue. His death, which very much looks like murder. I understand you went upstairs shortly before he did.”

“Yes, I went directly to my room.”

“Did you see him?”

“I did speak with him briefly, but that was in the hall, after I found the clue sheet on the desk in my room.” Blackburn wavered. “I did stop by his room before going back downstairs. I heard a couple of voices indistinctly, so I just continued on.”

“What was it about the clue sheet you wanted to speak with Banks?”

Blackburn seemed about to say something, then steadied himself. He went over to a nearby desk with material remnants from the club meeting. “Here, it’s the list of TV shows from the 1960s, game shows. One of them was meant to be a clue to the hiding place of the bottle. I didn’t identify the right one.”

“Presumably all you treasure hunters received a copy of the list?”

“We were supposed to. Banks told me a copy was put in each member’s room. I don’t believe we all went up to our room before the end of the hunt, because after Ty found the bottle and the rest of us were left to commiserate, it turned out that a couple of us didn’t have the list, or didn’t find it until it was too late.”

Det. Cosgrove stood, stared out the window, then back to Blackburn. “Did you know he had a very elegant portfolio case, with a gothic emblem?”

Blackburn looked up.  “Yes, I mean I’ve seen it before. I didn’t know he brought it here, but I’m not surprised.”

The policeman pulled out the next question slowly. “Any idea how it was opened without a key?”

Blackburn looked lost. He just stared back.

“So, you didn’t go in Banks’ room, and you didn’t have a beer with him?”

“He offered when I saw him, but I was frankly determined to decipher his clue sheet.”   

“Thank you, please ask Ms. Heath to come in.”

Ms. Heath’s answers to Det. Cosgrove’s questions were perfunctory and clipped. She claimed not to have gone upstairs to her room at all since the search for the prize bottle started. She abstractedly flipped a small gold coin, hesitating only when she paused to respond to him. She didn’t know anything about the portfolio case, and was indifferent to the mystery of it being opened. Nor did she seem to be overly concerned about the ripple effect of Banks’ Y2K terrors, exhibiting only a frozen smile. That quickly changed, as she added that she was secretly fascinated to hear about his room’s artwork, and hoped to have a chance to see it

When he sat down, Sanders nodded once to the detective, jaw set, gaze alert, but with an occasional involuntary twitch.

Det. Cosgrove said, “I understand you had a testy exchange with the victim yesterday.”

“I wouldn’t call it that. I, and others, have been trying to calm him down about Y2K.”

“So, you were arguing with him about it?”

“Look, detective, it was more getting him to see reason. Tyrone and I kept telling him there are many potential scenarios, not just worse case. We wanted him to understand how his crying wolf could hurt not only him. Not helpful for stability in our businesses, or in protecting the value of our assets. And not for his own piece of mind, for whatever that might be worth. ”

“Is it true he was going to sell off a large part of his wine portfolio?”

“He said he wouldn’t actually do much before New Year’s. We hope we talked him out of doing any more than he already did. I don’t know what he told anyone else.”

Det. Cosgrove indulged in being conciliatory. “Doesn’t seem like much time left to do a lot of damage, if it’s to be by tomorrow.”

“Times and technology have changed.” Sanders seemed to appreciate any empathy. “Plus he might have made some moves already we don’t know about. After all, he was pretty flaky for a conductor. Did you notice those pictures hanging in his room?”

Beyond “Yes,” Det. Cosgrove didn’t comment. “So you also found the list of TV shows in your room?”

“Yes”. Sanders looked wistful. “But it didn’t do much good.”

“I see. Did you have a beer in Banks’ room?”

“I did see him briefly, but I didn’t hang around, I wanted to find that bottle.”

“Hmm. So, what do you think about the documents being stolen from a locked portfolio case with no key?” 

Sanders shrugged, trying to exude calm. “I didn’t notice which portfolio case he brought to the meeting. And I don’t know about stolen documents.”

Det. Cosgrove persisted. “How do you think it was opened without a key?”

“What makes you think there wasn’t one?”

“We have good evidence. There’s no key anywhere in his room, and the only one we know of is in the safe.” Pause. “I wondered if you had any ideas.”  

Sanders stared ahead. “That’s a curious one. Sorry, I can’t help you.”   

“I see, please have Mr. Stanley come in.”

Stanley initially looked wary, but as he settled on his seat he started to lean forward. His voice pitch rose as he spoke. “Nasty business. Not good for our club.”

Det. Cosgrove looked annoyed. “Not good for the club? Certainly worse for Banks.”

Stanley looked surprised. “Clearly. I mean, obviously bad for Mitchell.” 

“You don’t seem too upset, though. You didn’t like him?”

“Look, as I understand it, he was a successful, but typically temperamental, conductor. He amassed quite a wine collection. He complained a lot about how much work and expense was involved in his avocation, and lately he wouldn’t let it rest fretting about Y2K.” Stanley appeared frustrated. “He became increasingly obsessed. Connor and I were getting worried about the effect on our whole club.”  

The detective leaned back to consider, then leaned in. “I understand you and Mr. Sanders had a pretty vigorous discussion with Banks at the cocktail party.”

Stanley suddenly seemed laser focused, and a little exasperated. “It’s obvious behaviour like his could be detrimental to the group. We all have a financial stake. We wanted Banks to not do anything else, selling out in panic, assuming the worst. Look, maybe there will be some glitches due to Y2K, maybe it’s because I’m a memorabilia collector, we will survive this, the world will march on. It will find a way to.”

Det. Cosgrove tried to lower the temperature with a soft, “Let’s hope.” Then, back with, “Did you meet with him in his room?”

“When I went upstairs and passed his room, the door was ajar, so I knocked, and he invited me in. He said he would decide in the evening if he was going to sell anything else. He was going to follow his gut. I pleaded with him one more time to be responsible. I changed the subject when I saw his wall coverings. Classic supernatural of a period. Like the paintings from Night Gallery.”  

The detective thought to himself, ‘You too, eh?’ Aloud to Stanley, “You didn’t have a beer with him? Try to get him to help you win the bottle?”

“No, and no.” There was a fanatical shine to Stanley’s eyes. ”I really wanted to win the bottle, but fair and square.”

“Then you didn’t see the portfolio case?”

“No, I know he has a couple of really nice ones, but I didn’t see what he brought here.”

“Any idea how it might be opened without a key present?”

“I’m not any kind expert on briefcase science, detective, and certainly not on being a pickpocket. My expertise rests with books and investment grade memorabilia.”

Det. Cosgrove mulled this over. “So, you say you simply went back to your room. Where you found a copy of the list.”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“One other thing. As I hear it, you made quite an impression at the talent show with your knowledge of all kinds of plant life. Including the poisonous kind.”

Stanley seemed to be reliving highlights of the talent show in his mind. “Well, sheriff, it takes all kind of critters to make Farmer Brown fritters.” He smiled indulgently. “I don’t apologize for having a range of knowledge.”

Con. Doyenne leaned in through the door. Det. Cosgrove motioned Stanley to leave. As she started her report, she showed him three embossed 8’x10’ pictures, featuring depictions similar to the gothic look in Banks’ room. One was found in Stanley’s room. Det. Cosgrove called him back. He acknowledged having seen it, but didn’t seem concerned about how it got there.

Told by her boss he would go through the rest of the report with her after completing the interviews, the constable left and signaled to Melanie Quinn to see him. 

Conscious of her profession, the detective donned his glasses, looking at her from an angle. “Hello, Ms. Quinn, the hypnotherapist.”

Conscious of his profession, she said, “Hello to you, detective.”

“I understand you also have an interest in horticulture. Do you communicate with plants by hypnosis?”

In spite of herself, Ms. Quinn bristled a little. “I presume that’s, at best, a left-handed compliment. I get my hands dirty with garden plants. And I love to discover those in the woods, around places like this lodge.” She let her sarcastic energy rise. “If the plants listen to me, it’s because of my personality.”

“No doubt. What do you know about plant poisons?”

“Not much. Is that what did in Mr. Banks?”

“Please answer the question more clearly.”

“Naturally I know some do’s and don’ts in handling plants.”

“I’ll take that to mean you have some knowledge.” Det. Cosgrove looked at her more closely. “Did you have a glass of beer with him in his room?”

“No, I didn’t see him after he went upstairs.”

“You didn’t go in his room?”

“No.” She paused to look out the window. “And, to anticipate your question, no, I didn’t argue with him about the subject of Y2K. He couldn’t go beyond reacting on a gut, emotional level. No wonder no one seemed to reach him. Like he was in his own bubble.”

“Interesting metaphor.” The detective started to reach into a pocket, then seemed to think better of it. “You’re being a Doctor of Hypnotherapy… what do you think, medically or psychologically, about the artwork in Banks’ room?”

Ms. Quinn’s eyes narrowed. “I didn’t have any analytic relationship with him. My unsubstantiated opinion, is that, given his somewhat mercurial, iconoclastic, nature, he probably felt at ease in a disturbed world.”

“By the way, did you see any of the prints he apparently had brought with him?”

“No, why do you ask?”

“Because one was found in your room.”

Ms. Quinn made eye contact and shrugged. “I try to avoid negative energy. If it was in my room, it must have been out of the way, because I didn’t notice it.”

“Aren’t you curious as to why it was there?”

Ms. Quinn’s reaction was a hypnotherapist worthy stare. “Maybe whoever put it there was looking for disciples.”

Det. Cosgrove tried another direction . “Perhaps you would be interested to know that Bank’s portfolio case was broken into, but with no damage and no key.”

She was unruffled, appearing to enjoy his parries. “No kidding! Kudos to the ingenious. As long as they adhere to a legal, moral methodology, of course.”

The detective decided not to pursue it.

Torin Currie’s interview followed a familiar path. The antique dealer’s answers reflected his own obsessions. Particularly, this came out in his tendency to speak quickly and with a rising voice. When the issue of Banks’ Y2K fixation was brought up, he was more interested in how he hoped own business would handle it. He acknowledged he found a copy of the list of TV shows in his room.

“Did you go talk to Banks in his room about it?”

“No, I was trying to figure out what damn TV show was the clue.”

“Did you have a beer with Banks in his room?”

“No, I didn’t go in there. I saw him briefly in the hall, he looked distracted.”

“What do you know about Banks’ embossed portfolio case?”

“The one featuring The Music of Erich Zann. You know, I’m kind of jealous.”

“Really! Of the case, or the image?” At Currie’s stare, he continued, “Was the print left in your room similar?”

“Actually, if I’m not mistaken, that one may be an interpretation of William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland.”

“Hmm, this seems to be a common area of interest between you and the deceased.”

Currie appeared bemused. “Yes, so it was.”

Det. Cosgrove leaned toward him. “But you didn’t see him in his room about it, or ask him about the print?”

Currie shook his head.

The detective swung back a little. “Back to the portfolio case, you have any idea how someone might have accessed one of the files, when it was locked, undamaged, and no key around?”

“Look, Det. Cosgrove, I’m one of the least likely to be affected even if Y2K turns out bad. My investments are in items which have, to some extent literally, stood the test of time, they’ve survived many ups and downs in world history. And, as you observe, I have another, more outré passion I had in common with Mitchell. Not that we were involved in any ritual sacrifices, ha-ha. Sorry. What it comes down to is, I’m not involved in his death. So I don’t think my speculation would be helpful.”

Det. Cosgrove checked his notes. “You were here on a short holiday about a year ago, with your wife, along with Mr. Blackburn and his wife, correct?”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“Anything stand out from that trip that could be relevant to my investigation?”

“Not really, we hiked in the woods during the day, and sampled the local beers when we got back. And some card playing.”  

With that, and no objection from the detective, Currie stood and departed. The last member to be queried, David Broughton, followed in.

Unfortunately for Det. Cosgrove, Broughton’s unhelpful answers almost paralleled Ms. Heath’s, except for his attitude, which was perfunctory but begrudging. He also claimed not to have gone upstairs to his room at all when the treasure hunt started. Also like her, and especially Currie, he professed to not be seriously concerned about Banks’ Y2K terrors. In no way would he admit to having a green thumb, or sticky fingers.

After the software developer left, the detective observed to Con. Doyenne that, what Broughton had in common with Ms. Heath was that, along with apparently not having found their copies of the list, they had been the least noticed during the time around the crime.

(end of part three)

The Millennium Prize (part two) ©

“As far as the clue is concerned, here it is… Relax & cover up with a 1960s TV game show”. I assure you, correctly interpreted, it will put you on the trail. Officially, I say, ‘Good luck’, but, to be honest, I won’t be disappointed if it stays in my possession.”

“Hmm, I may be oldest here, but I never watched those game shows” declared Stanley. “What’s the best way to find out their names? I see a small library off the lobby, maybe there’s a reference book planted in there. There must be a list somewhere.” Stanley raced out and down the hall to the Lodge library, usually open to all. Sanders and Currie exchanged glances and began a cursory look around. Melanie Quinn followed them around for a while, then left to go the library. She reported back that Stanley was still there, non-committal as to whether he had discovered anything helpful.

Broughton and Katy Heath, still discussing Banks’ clue, heard the gist of Ms. Quinn’s report. Laptop computer handy, he made a beeline for one of the active desktop stations. She frowned, followed, then sat at the other station. They went to work,  mainly communicating in code.

Blackburn smiled as his colleagues separated. He remained pensive as he departed for the staircase to the second floor. Ms. Quinn seemed to consider her options, took another look at her Cartier, then at her own leisurely pace also ascended the staircase to freshen up in her room, after a brief chat with Sanders and Stanley in the lobby. While discussing how to decipher the clue, the men decided a brief break could be mentally refreshing, and soon followed her.     

Director Ryder and assistant Ms. Munroe watched the members disperse. They had just confirmed the ATAS group requirements for the rest of the day. That concluded, Ryder straightened his collar and engaged in conversation with a family checking in. Ms. Munroe started a surreptitious surveillance of the contestants, unobtrusive notebook handy. As a survivalist, her expertise included tracking, be it animals or plants. She enjoyed when opportunity arose to enhance her skills indoors.  When previously asked, she agreed to act as the lodge ex officio for this agenda finale.

Ms. Munroe kept to the periphery while the majority of members were still near the conference room. Now that perhaps several had gone up to the second floor, she debated with herself about doing likewise.

Shortly after scanning the initial movements of the searchers, Banks moved directly through the lobby to the staircase, his expression dour. Ms. Munroe followed soon after. As she stepped into the hall, a few doors down she saw Banks and Blackburn apparently ending a conversation, as each turned into his own room and shut the door, Blackburn, his speaking inaudible, quite forcefully.

Otherwise, the air was largely quiet. She saw Martina in the service closet as she passed by, gradually hearing muted clips as she moved on, coming from television sets, apparently all on a business channel. Then, passing by Banks’ room there were sounds of discussion. From the tone she initially thought it was a phone call, but distinctly heard a few words from Banks, presumably conversing directly with another member. She quickly checked the currently unoccupied rooms at the back end of the hall, and all was well. On the way back, as she passed the door to Banks’ room she again heard a pair of voices at low volume, too indistinct to be identifiable. She spoke with Martina, emerging to hear a couple of doors closing down the hall, but no one was visible.

A little while after her return to the ground floor, Ms. Munroe checked in with her boss briefly in his office. As she moved through the lobby to the ‘treasure hunt’, she observed Broughton engaged in spirited discussion, as usual, with Ms. Heath. They were looking over what appeared to be a computer print-out.  “What about this one?” suggested the pilot. “What’s the connection?” responded the software entrepreneur. The names sounded like obscure TV titles. 

Hearing a few voices behind her, Ms. Munroe turned to see in the hall Blackburn, Sanders, and Currie in somewhat intense discussion, seeming to focus on their lack of success. “Look at this”, said Blackburn. “I’ve had it for over an hour, and I can’t narrow it down to fit the so-called clue.” Currie, who had just come down from his room, pointed at another copy of the sheet, muttering “Something involving taking or cover. I think it’s one of these – Concentration, Temptation, Camouflage, It’s Your Move, Get the Message, or Showdown. But what’s the tie-in to what’s round here. I wish we saw this sooner, Connor.” Blackburn exuded smugness. “You should have visited your room earlier. Someone named Banks had this sheet put in our rooms.”

Sanders looked at his watch. “Not much time left.” He looked up to Blackburn. “Did you talk to our reluctant benefactor?”

“Upstairs I confronted him with the copy I found in my room. He felt the clue would be a sufficiently fair catalyst, properly deciphered. I guess that’s what the first word in clue refers to, ‘relax’, as in your room.”

Currie looked again at the sheet. “Looks like having a head start with the list didn’t do you much good.”

Blackburn shook his head in agreement. “I’ve been going a little haywire trying to make sense of a connection.”

Melanie Quinn sauntered by. “Any luck, gentlemen?” They shook their heads. “Nothing so far”. She left them, then ventured to the sun room, checking out the impressive display of plants, and then stopped short.

Stanley was standing near a few plant holders near the window, shaded from direct sunlight. A few minutes later he yelled, “Hey, I’ve got it!” Ms. Quinn rushed over. The others heard, and followed suit.

Stanley stood there, a picture of fixated satisfaction. holding the bottle of Dom Pérignon Rosé, next to the plant holder which had been covering it. “How did you find it?” asked a deflated Blackburn. He pointed to its place, surrounded by similar flower pots on each side, a cocoon of security from exposure.   

Currie still had the list in hand. “Which show gave you the right clue?”

Stanley’s was a penetrating stare, as if preparing his musicians for a concert. “Camouflage. The most obvious reference to something hidden by a form of a cover. Then, of course, I had to look for a cover big enough, that looked it belonged in its spot. Flower pots were a natural tie-in. And in this case one protected from sunlight.” He smiled indulgently. “I’ve never spoken about it much to our club, but I find botany an activity which engages the body and relaxes the mind.”

“Well, you know enough about their terminology, anyway,” commented Sanders, dryly.

“I guess I should have paid more attention to the plant life last year when Amanda and I stayed here with Connor and Cecily,” commented Currie, begrudgingly.  

Pro forma, your analytic mind at work”, said Ms. Heath to Stanley, with limited enthusiasm, from the doorway. Moving inside quickly, Broughton said, “Let me be the first to shake your hand.”

Stanley shifted to him, stepping back a little, his voice rising. “And be the first to sample its contents with me?”

Broughton stood still, then relaxed as his cellular phone rang. “What? I wasn’t going anywhere with finding the bottle, I figured I should stay in touch with my office.” A lightbulb flashed in his head belatedly. “As far as sampling it with you, I’m willing to postpone that honour. Frankly, I prefer the kind of liquors Cameron deals with.”

Just inside the doorway, Alina Munroe stood watching. As Stanley moved back into the conference room with the bottle, she put on her lodge assistant hat and congratulated her, on behalf of the Cotaluna Lodge.  Cued by Munroe, director Ryder found a quick path to add his round of recognition.

The other attending members of the ATAS club started to drift back as well to the conference room. The last part of the agenda, still led by Blackburn, included official club recognition of the successful hunter. Banks would make a short speech praising the winner, likely bemoan the value of the prize, and perhaps make a weak joke along the lines of someone ‘helping a guy out’.

By 4:45 all members were in the room except Banks. “Where the hell is he?” mused Blackburn, looking at a clock. The prize bottle on a table before him, Stanley looked around to gauge the moods of colleagues. Ms. Heath was lightly slapping her hand against the table, her mouth betraying gritted teeth. Currie was sitting, fingers steepled, expression evidencing he should have won. At the other end was Ms. Quinn, in observational serenity. Sanders said to anyone who would listen, the fallout from the next thirty-plus hours was actually more important than winning the wine bottle. Stanley seconded this opinion.  

From her eagle eye position, Alina Munroe spoke up, “I’ll go check Mr. Banks room.” As she moved toward the staircase, Broughton shook his head, then added, “I’ll go with you”. They bounded across the hall, a quick word between Ms. Munroe and Ryder, and then up the stairs.

Banks was registered in suite 206. They listened briefly outside his room, next knocked on the door. No response. The door was unlocked. They went in.

“Banks, c’mon, time to face the music”. Broughton’s accusatory tone dropped as Ms. Munroe pointed to the mini-bar in an opposite corner.

Slumped over the bar top was Banks. Posture decidedly stiff.

There were two opened beer bottles and a couple of glasses on the counter, along with a spoon which had a scent of honey. Banks did not move in response to their calls. As Broughton leaned over to him, she said, “Don’t touch him except to check his pulse”. There was no pulse. They looked at each other. She spoke, “This is a crime scene. We’ve got to leave and secure the room, and call the police.” Broughton seemed about to debate the point. He took a careful sweep of the room, focused briefly on the murder scene, saw her staring at him, and reluctantly nodded accord. Outside the door she used a master key to lock the room.

At the front desk, a chain of reaction was unfurling.

Ryder, having collected and notified his staff, declared,  “I’ll call the station, hopefully get hold of a detective.” Ms. Munroe nodded acknowledgement as Ryder stepped into his office and closed the door. 

Sosa and Randall, the service staff, stood next to the front counter, took in the news with obvious discomfort, eyes looking around suspiciously, then resumed their duties without comment.

The surviving club members stood in a loose circle in the hall near the conference room. Ms. Munroe scanned the group, which appeared largely desultory.  Blackburn was rubbing his copy of the agenda, as if trying to remove problems. Ms. Heath was staring at a list, limited to a dozen entries. Stanley was clutching the bottle, his fingers moving to feel the texture of the label and the neck of the glass.

Lodge director Ryder cleared his throat to get attention. “You’re all here, and you know what has occurred. Mr. Banks is dead, and it looks like someone else may be responsible. We will wait for the police to make that determination. I’m sure they will want to speak to all of you.”

There was rustling from a couple of members, but Ms. Munroe couldn’t tell who. To the group’s silent reaction, Ryder added, “If there’s anything you need from the lodge, please speak to Ms. Munroe or myself. Oh, and please wait together in the conference room until the police arrive. Thank you.” Katy Heath led protestations about being allowed to go upstairs to wait. Ms. Munroe reminded them police investigation would no doubt include checking their rooms. With that, notepad secure, she left and returned with Ryder to the front desk. By this time a few of the regular guests were making some inquiries, and they had to help soothe concerns.

That evening, a promotional banner, feigning a battle royale between Cotaluna lodgers and an amorphous image of a ‘Y2K beast’, the latter imposing, in a cartoonish way, was supposed to be raised high over the lobby entryway. Upon instruction from Director Ryder, the banner was unfurled and stored with other sundries intended for the occasion in a nearby closet.

Broughton started to raise an objection, then made a half-hearted joke connecting  Banks’ demise and Y2K, quickly stopped by reactions from colleagues. Ms. Quinn raised her eyes, and the rest of her followed, then, with a hint of irony, said something about it not being a good time to tempt schadenfreude.   

A commotion at the entrance heralded the arrival of a pair of police investigators, Detective Avery Cosgrove and Constable Nicky Doyenne. Cosgrove, at 53, was an imposing presence, in good shape beneath his conservative suit and surprisingly splashy tie. Doyenne was 25, recently minted as a Constable, displaying confident deference.

Director Ryder was waiting for them. “Thank you, Detective, for your speedy arrival. And this must be Con. Doyenne, nice to meet you.” The latter tipped her cap. Shifting his direction to the stairwell, Ryder said “The room is untouched since we found Mr. Banks’, er, body. Please, this way.”

The Detective nodded to Ms. Munroe, and she joined the three of them up to Bank’s room, Det. Cosgrove in animated conversation with the lodge representatives.

While awaiting the appearance of a forensic pathologist, coming from Orillia, the two officers conducted a complete check of the room. The floor, bed, closet, and washroom, all neat, contrasted with the busy look of the desk and the scene of Banks’ death around the bar. In addition to the beer items, they discovered a vial of his heart medicine, obviously used.

Meanwhile, the atmospheric impact of the room’s comfortably rustic design was overshadowed by esoteric wall coverings.

The wall art comprised pictures of an unexpectedly dark nature, such as might be inspired by Edgar Allan Poe or H.P. Lovecraft, thus adding a melancholy air. When asked about the controversial nature of the depictions, Ryder responded that as a special Y2K promotion, the lodge was offering in the week leading up to December 31st a ‘home comfort’ option, wherein overnight guests could arrange for one or more temporary ‘comfort’ installations, as a way to make one’s stay more pleasing. Banks was clearly aware of this, and had made a request through his office for putting up some of his collected artwork. To raised eyebrows, Ryder stated that the lodge didn’t want to impose staid standards of decorum, given the peculiar uncertainty of this impending year, and that obviously comfort should be in the eye of the customer.    

The victim’s desk offered up some information. A copy of the list of 1960s TV game shows was on top of a tidy pile of documents. Ms. Munroe noted that the correct clue, Camouflage, was underlined in plum red.

A partially open drawer revealed part of an impressively ornate portfolio case. Det. Cosgrove, disposable gloves on, cautiously opened the drawer sufficiently to extract it. The embossed cover depicted an obscure Lovecraft tale, The Music of Erich Zann. The cover was locked. No key was in the vicinity. However, after verification there were no traces of wax in the keyhole, some cautious ‘elbow grease’ with applied expertise soon permitted the folder to reveal its secrets.

Det. Cosgrove motioned to his colleague to look at several forms, mainly letters of intent, in one of the two folder pockets. The other pocket was empty. The forms appeared to have been completed within the last week. Evidently there was truth to the stories of Banks’ preparedness to bail out of some, maybe a major portion, of his holdings. The detective speculated that one or more colleagues might view such action as endangering the collector market, especially for liquor products, and that one or more members of the ATAS club might face collateral damage.

Banks’ body was sitting on a chair, leaning over, head on the counter with face towards the door.  His final expression seemed to display severe anxiety. The beer bottles were about a third empty, the glasses containing residues. There were no clear fingerprints. Scent came from what seemed to be a dash of honey on the spoon, although there was a lingering, slightly unpleasant aroma. There was a napkin next to Banks, discoloured from use, sitting on top of a bowl of pretzels. Banks’ washroom looked almost pristine, except for a small piece of glossy paper Con. Doyenne found on the floor behind the waste bin. She gave it to her boss, who carefully unravelled it, revealing it to be to a tear from, likely, a beer bottle label. He noticed the tiny, embossed portion seemed unusually thick, with a metallic feel.   

Aside from Banks’ deceased condition, there were few signs of impropriety, although the net effect of the paintings alone inspired unease.

Ryder, along with Ms. Munroe, returned to the front desk after opening the door to Banks’ room. Shortly after, staffer Kirby was dispatched upstairs to advise that the forensic pathologist was expected within a half hour.

Det. Cosgrove returned downstairs. Con. Doyenne was instructed to make a sweep of the other members’ rooms and report.

(end of part two)