BECOME A DETECTIVE FOR FIVE MINUTES:
The witch and the young Sherlock Holmes left their car in a parking lot and made their way along Center Street toward the police department’s annual party. During the rest of the year, the witch was better known as Carol Bixby, an officer in the city’s major crimes division. And the crime solver was her twelve-year-old son.
Carol whacked him playfully with her broomstick. “That’s right. Napoleon and Frankenstein will be on the case. And Sherlock Holmes, of course.”
It was October 31, and a festive assortment of ghouls and ghosts strolled the streets. Adding to the fun were the decorations–paper skeletons stapled to doors, plastic cob webs and comical tombstones. Jonah and his mother were taking a shortcut down an alley when they saw that someone on the third floor had placed a Dracula dummy in a chair on a balcony, with a stake through its heart.
“Mom,” Jonah said, tugging on her sleeve. His face was suddenly ashen. “That’s not a stake–it’s a corkscrew. And that’s not a dummy. It’s a real man.”
As they looked on, the door opened and a zombie and a gypsy woman stepped out on the balcony. The gypsy woman smiled and touched the corpse on the shoulder, then took a closer look at the corkscrew. Her scream was piercing.
“Looks like we’ll have to skip our own party,” Detective Bixby told her son. “I don’t even have time to take you home.”
“That’s okay,” said Jonah, trying to look blasé. The only thing better than a Halloween party, in his mind, was a Halloween party with a real crime to solve.
His mother brought him up to the third-floor apartment, and they walked in on twenty costumed guests, all looking shocked and ready to leave. When the other officers arrived, Carol instructed them to take statements.
During all of this, Jonah was pretty much ignored. He glanced around at the new furniture, then wandered into the kitchen and saw the spanking-new appliances and cookware, one of everything. “This is what they call a corporate apartment,” his mother explained as she passed by. “All very basic.”
The victim was a businessman from New York, Thad Jericho, who used the apartment about once a week. He had been hosting this Halloween party for his local employees when one of them must have joined him on the balcony and stabbed him.
The zombie they’d seen on the balcony approached Detective Bixby. “I’m Kendall Brown, office manager,” he said, wiping a dribble of fake blood from his mouth.
Carol Bixby nodded. “From the statements we’ve been getting, it seems Mr. Jericho wasn’t very popular.”
“He made a lot of unpopular decisions. And? ” The zombie shrugged. “Thad was a bit of a jerk.”
“A big jerk,” said a newcomer. It was the gypsy woman, otherwise known as Gina Gershwin, personnel director.
“Did anyone see Mr. Jericho go out on the balcony?” Carol asked.
“No,” said Kendall. “No one remembers seeing him for at least half an hour before the body was discovered.”
“Actually, I think I discovered the body,” said a cowboy who had just joined them. His name was Herbert Horner, senior accountant. “I got here rather late.”
“Right,” Gina agreed. “We didn’t think you were coming. I was just uncorking the last bottle of wine when you walked in.”
“That’s not my point,” said Herbert. “My point is I took a shortcut through the alley. I saw Thad up on the balcony, already dead. I thought it was a decoration.”
“Did you see anything else?” Carol asked.
“No,” said Herbert. “I just came up and joined the party. About ten minutes later, Gina and Kendall found him out there.”
“Mom,” Jonah whispered. “I need to talk to you.”
For the first time, the guests noticed that there was a twelve-year-old among them dressed as Sherlock Holmes. Gina cracked a smug smile. “Looks like we have our own little detective here. Maybe you can tell us who killed him.”
Jonah looked up to his mother. “Can I, Mom?”
“Go ahead,” Carol said and saw the gypsy’s smile fade.
Who killed Thad Jericho? The cowboy, Herbert Horner
What clue did Jonah notice? The corkscrew
Jonah led his mother and the three costumed suspects into the kitchen. He opened the drawers one by one and rummaged around. “What are you looking for, Sherlock?” asked the zombie. “A corkscrew.”
“It’s in the victim, honey,” said his mother, a little embarrassed.
“I know that,” said Jonah. “I was looking for another one.”
“There isn’t another one,” said the gypsy. “This is a corporate apartment. They furnished it with a bare minimum of essentials.”
“Then we have a problem,” replied Jonah. “Because at the same time you were opening a bottle of wine, Mr. Horner says he saw the corkscrew in Mr. Jericho’s chest.”
The gypsy thought. “He’s right. How could that be?”
“It couldn’t,” said Carol. “Mr. Horner, you lied about seeing the body on the balcony. Why?”
Horner didn’t answer, but Jonah did. “To make us think that Mr. Jericho was dead before he arrived. He was trying to give himself an alibi. Mr. Horner is the killer.”
“Cohan’s House of Horrors“
by Gary Sensenig
Bob, the security guard, drew his gun, took a deep breath, and headed down a shadowy corridor full of plastic cobwebs, fake blood, and recorded screams. It was Bob’s worst nightmare, a real-life killer on the loose in Cohan’s Haunted House. At least one person was dead, and behind any one of these doors might lie another victim–or worse, the killer–waiting for another victim.
Someone, somewhere turned off the sound system and switched on the emergency lights. Bob tried the door on the left. Locked. Then the one on the right. Unlocked. He pushed it open two inches, until it hit something, something that moaned. Bob looked down and saw more blood. Real blood.
An hour later and the police had pieced together the basics. A total of two attacks and one murder. Jason Pierce, a 22-year-old employee, had been killed by an ax; definitely not one of the prop axes, but a real weapon. Alicia Cohan had been luckier. She, too, was bleeding from an ax attack. But when Bob found her, barely conscious behind the door, she was still alive.
“It could’ve been worse,” Sergeant Greeley told his captain. “There were just a few employees in the haunted house. The attacker wasn’t seen coming into the building–or leaving, for that matter. But he was seen.” Greeley checked his notepad. “Medium height, in a ghost costume and a full-head rubber mask. We found the costume, the mask, and the ax not far from the second attack scene. The lab matched the blood samples. Jason’s blood and Alicia’s blood.”
“Attacker not seen entering or leaving.” The captain had a way of honing in on the essentials. “That’s strange, given the limited access in that kind of attraction.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll interview the second victim, then talk to the others.”
Alicia sat up in her hospital bed and spoke with effort. “We were just opening up. Jason and Millie and Todd were changing into their costumes. Dad was there, too. I turned on the sound system and the mood lights. I was checking the halls for garbage when I heard Todd shouting–something about a crazy person with an ax. A few seconds later, this thing came around the corner. I knew right away.
“I don’t know why I ran into the dungeon room. There’s no other exit. This maniac pushed open the door and started swinging. I fell to the floor, then I must’ve passed out. I guess he thought I was dead, ’cause the next thing I know, the security guard was waking me up. Was anyone else hurt?”
Alicia hadn’t yet been told about her boyfriend’s death.
Todd Wilkins seemed more concerned about Alicia than about the death of his best friend. “She’s going to be all right,” Greeley assured him. “Just some cuts and bruises. You saw the attack on Jason?”
“Part of it,” said Todd. “I was changing into my ghoul costume when I heard something. I went into the next room and there was Jason, fighting off this guy in one of our ghost costumes and an old mask. The guy was swinging this ax, and Jason was trying to grab the ax and swing back. I tried to jump in, but the guy got in one last swing, then ran off down the hall. I shouted out a warning to the others, then went to help Jason. He was bleeding so much.”
Millie Miller, like the others, was in her early 20s: short blonde hair, an athletic build and slightly taller than average. “I was in the locker room downstairs, changing into my witch’s uniform. I guess I heard some screaming, but I thought it was the tape. I didn’t realize anything was wrong until I came upstairs.”
Sergeant Greeley nodded, then changed subjects. “I hear Alicia and Jason were engaged.”
“Engaged? She wishes.” Millie’s laugh died in her throat. “I shouldn’t be mean. Jason and I were together for years, ever since middle school. Things were getting a little stale and too serious, all at the same time. Jason said we should see other people for a while, just to get it out of our systems. That’s all Alicia was, a little experiment. He told her that. He was coming back to me.”
This was the third different story Greeley had heard. According to Alicia, they were happy, and Jason had already proposed. According to Todd, Alicia cried on his shoulder all the time. She was sick of Jason and ready to leave. And now Millie’s variation on the old, familiar theme.
The sergeant caught up with Alicia’s father at Cohan’s Haunted House. A curious throng stood by the police barricades in front of the boardwalk attraction. “Thank God Alicia’s okay.” Then he chuckled. “I can’t figure out if this will be good for business or bad.”
“Are you the sole owner?” Greeley asked.
“Me and Alicia,” said the sad-eyed, middle-aged man. “Alicia has an inheritance from her grandparents. I’m the trustee until she turns 30 or gets married. A chunk of her money went into Cohan’s Haunted House. It’s a good investment for her.”
“Did you see or hear anything this morning? Anything at all?”
Cohan shook his head. “Bob and the kids were all there when I unlocked the doors. I locked up behind them, then went upstairs to the office. They often joked about a real killer getting loose in the haunted house.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“That ghost costume came from a storage closet. And the ax…”
“Was the stairwell fire ax.”
Cohan sighed. “It doesn’t look like an outsider, does it?”
Sergeant Greeley agreed. It was an inside job, all right. And he had a good idea which insider it was.
The Solution: Whom does Greeley suspect? Alicia Cohan
What clue points to the killer?
Alicia’s “unconscious” body was too close to the door to allow the killer to exit.
Millie was right about Jason’s state of mind. He had been ready to dump Alicia and return to his old love. But Alicia wasn’t ready to let go.
While the others changed clothes, Alicia grabbed the ghost costume and the mask, plus the ax from the stairwell. She attacked Jason, but he fought back, cutting and bruising her in the process. The only way that Alicia could explain away the injuries was to pretend to be a second victim. She discarded the ax and costume, then pretended to be unconscious in the dungeon room.
Her one mistake? She lay down too close to the room’s only door. If a real attacker had been in there, he would have had to move her body in order to squeeze out the door.