“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)