It was clear that poor old Geoffrey (“Geo” as we called him) was dead. Quite clear and quite dead. I could go on a Dickensian rant about how dead the poor chap was but simple facts will suffice. He lay there sprawled out in spread-eagle fashion with wide, staring, vacant eyes and clean-shaven jaw agape. We barely noticed him due to the fact that he blended in so well with the sitting room floor.
The sitting room held the honor of being the most eccentric spot in the mansion, with great bookshelves lining one wall, a massive fireplace and myriad of paintings on the other, and a plethora of colorful furniture everywhere in between. The large window at the end of the room looked out over the late Geo’s estate of sprawling green hills and trees and a well-stocked lake for fishing. As for the former master of such wealth, he lay in the center of the room like a lumpy rug or an odd body pillow. I suppose at that point he could be used as a body pillow with proper taxidermy and—no! Perish the thought! That is much too morose.
Although Geo’s death was unsettling to the entire party, we were fortunate enough to have a professional detective in our midst. Sterling Hawke, famous London sleuth, and his esteemed colleague, Dr. Juan Ortiz, were the guests of honor that night. Geo had suspected his wife, Fiona, of cheating on him (or, at least, wished that to be so) and Hawke was hired to corroborate those suspicions. The story of how he nabbed his evidence was fascinating and we listened raptly to his account over dinner. Apparently, Hawke disguised himself as one of her potential suitors, seduced her, and Dr. Ortiz captured photos of what followed. Geo, upon receiving these in a manila folder, immediately filed for divorce.
That party, that fateful party, took place the following night. Aside from the detective and his doctor friend, the other guest of honor (who provided the evening’s first surprise) was Geo’s new girlfriend, Matilda. This latest flame came from a slightly wealthier family and had a horse-like face. The other guests were also distinguished in their own way: the old Duke and Duchess of Bulbous Head, dressed ridiculously like Victorian royalty; Sgt. Snipe of the Royal Cavaliers, famous for stealing a herd of goats from terrorists in Afghanistan; Mr. Slewd, Geo’s divorce lawyer and new best friend; and finally, least of all, me, one of Geo’s few college chums who did not forsake the old boy after all his wealth went to his head.
Upon discovering the body, we all turned instinctively to Sterling Hawke, dressed in a casual brown suit and clenching an unlit pipe between his teeth. His flat nose seemed to wiggle with excitement as he stepped solemnly through the small group of people and beckoned Dr. Ortiz.
“Juan, I believe your services are needed,” he said.
The Hispanic doctor came forward accordingly and knelt beside the body. He put his fingers to the neck, checking for a pulse, while bending over Geo’s vacant face. At last he looked up and said, straight faced and sober, “The man is dead.”
The Duchess and Matilda gasped as if they weren’t expecting this pronouncement. Sterling Hawke nodded.
“Very good, Doctor,” he said in a pretentious voice. “I shall take over now.”
Dr. Ortiz rejoined the party and Hawke sunk down to the body, producing a magnifying glass as he did so. He sniffed around the corpse like a hound and finally propped it up slightly to look underneath.
“No sign of struggle,” he muttered. “No sign of blood.”
Suddenly due process of the law came upon the lawyer and he broke in, “Should we call the police?”
The detective shot him an annoyed look as he gently rested the body on the floor and laid his hand on Geo’s chest. He opened his mouth to respond but stopped short.
“Hullo! What’s this?”
Now he pressed on the chest with both hands, increasing in intensity until the whole party squirmed. But we were all (Dr. Ortiz included) taken aback when Hawke, with considerable effort, stood up with the body and held it out before him to the guests.
“Any of you having trouble sleeping at night?” said he. “Perhaps sleeping with ol’ Geoffrey here could help.”
The effect this eccentricity produced on the group was wide-ranging. The Duchess nearly fainted, the Duke looked perplexed, Matilda confused, Dr. Slewd cast his eyes around for sanity, Dr. Ortiz stood wide-eyed, Sgt. Snipe flushed with anger, and I (I couldn’t help it) laughed slightly at the absurdity this little mystery was producing.