The Perfect Night
CHAPTER
1
Part 1- The Party
A warm breeze passed through the evening’s summer air, and Ardella Hawkins rolled down the window of her limousine. Tonight was the perfect night, although Ardella would have much rather spent it doing other things. The destination was not one of her choice.
Just a week ago, she had received a letter in the mail with a bright red ‘confidential’ stamped on it. She had tentatively opened the envelope, not sure what to expect. Inside, was an invitation to a dinner party.
Now, it wasn’t just any dinner party. This was an invitation to dine with the richest man in town. Ardella, being an acclaimed actress, was already doing pretty well for herself. (She didn’t like to use the word “rich,” for what an ugly, unattractive word it was.) However, the rumor on the streets was that this man could grant you wealth beyond your wildest dreams, if you got a chance to meet him.
A bit of a town legend, rumors about this man had run wild. Very few had ever met him, although you could occasionally find his good-looking butler shopping at the local supermarket. So, as one could imagine, Ardella was both curious and suspicious when she received her invitation. It was the chance of a lifetime to visit this man and set foot in the towering mansion at the top of the hill.
Ardella’s driver pulled the car around a sharp turn, and she realized that they had arrived. The building was even more impressive up close. The setting sun made the dark brick exterior look strangely ominous. Ardella looked up to find heavy clouds moving in overhead. It better not rain, she thought. Her driver opened the car door, and she stepped out into the summer heat.
“I’ll be picking you up at midnight, ma’am,” said the driver.
Ardella was too preoccupied to answer. Suddenly, her heart was racing. This was her chance to make a good impression. She quickly adjusted her cream colored dress (chosen by her fashion consultant because it “complimented her chocolate skin”) and fur shawl (faux-fur, of course, she wasn’t a monster).
The path to the front door was lined with exquisite fountains and expertly trimmed hedges. Even the pathway itself appeared to be made of expensive stones found all over the world. Ardella was so dazzled by the lavish scenery, that she was caught by surprise when she found someone waiting at the double doors.
The man was distractingly handsome, with tanned skin and styled brown hair. He was fashionably well dressed, wearing a vest over a white button down shirt. The man looked undeniably “cool,” leaning against the door, leg up, rimless glasses held in one hand.
“Welcome,” he said, in a voice both mysterious and approachable. “I take it you’re Ms. Ardella Hawkins? You’re our last guest to arrive, we’re so glad you could make it. Step right on in.”
This was the butler, Ardella realized. No wonder everyone talked about him.
The butler opened the front doors and lead her into a waiting room. “I am the butler here, for Mr. O’Connor,” stated the butler.
Mr. O’Connor? That must be the man who lives here.
“My name is Oliver Archer, but you may call me Archer for short,” continued the butler. He gestured to an armchair, and Ardella sat down. “Excuse me for a moment while I let the others know that our last guest has arrived.” He hurried off into another room.
Ardella scanned the room and its elegant furniture. A bookshelf with antique volumes stood across from her, and a self playing grand piano was to her right. It played a melancholy tune, setting the mood. Rain was just starting to fall outside, a slight pitter-patter on the ceiling. The summer weather could turn from a sunny day to a rainstorm in a matter of minutes.
Suddenly, Archer was back in the room. “Right this way,” he gestured. Ardella followed him down a great hallway, filled with paintings and tapestries. Her high heels clicked on the floor as she walked behind Archer. Soon enough, they arrived at the dining room. A last minute thought hit Ardella as Archer opened the door: Who are the other guests? It had said in the invitation, but she had never bothered to look!
The door opened to reveal a large table seated with six. There were two empty seats, one at the head of the table and another located directly to the left. Ardella took her seat (indicated with an embroidered name tag) and was greeting with a few smiles, and a hostile glare.
WE NOW TAKE A BRIEF MOMENT to introduce. . .
The Smiles:
Gina Davis- Ardella and Gina have been friends for a long time, first meeting each other while just starting out in the film industry. She is also an acclaimed actress, and has collaborated with Ardella on many films.
Tanner Davis- The husband of Gina Davis, he too is an actor. He and his wife are equally attractive, guaranteeing them work for years to come.
James Jameson- The mayor of town. He has endless patience, and does surprisingly well for himself, as only a mayor. A bit overweight and red in the face, he still manages to keep a city going in style.
The Hostile Glare:
Esme Durand- A talented painter whose pieces sell of thousands of dollars. She thinks very highly of herself, and everyone else is beneath her. Her pinched face and beady eyes ensure that everyone know they’re worthless in her mind.
The Indifferent:
Leroy Ciciero- As Ardella entered the room, this greedy businessman was busy picking the dirt out from under his fingernails. His years in a factory (and in the military) has hardened his face and made him cold, uncaring, and obsessed with money.
Ardella looked around at the familiar faces. The one thing in common? They were all filthy rich. She looked down at her plate to avoid the glare from Esme Durand.
Leroy Ciciero, as blunt as ever, broke the silence with, “When are we going to get to see the man who lives here?” Many around the table nodded their heads in agreement.
“The master has not been feeling very well lately, so he will be joining us after dinner,” explained Archer. “Speaking of which, here come your salads.”
Two servers balancing trays on their shoulders walked around, distributing salads to each person. Each salad was different, presumably suited to each of the guest’s tastes. Ardella’s own was watermelon and ricotta cheese, indeed one of her favorites. She took a bite of the watermelon. It was better than any watermelon she’d ever had. It wasn’t mealy at all, and had the perfect balance of sweetness. All of the guests seemed to be enjoying their perfectly made salads.
The main course was no different. Each meal was custom fitted for the guest. Ardella was halfway finished with her steak, when someone began to speak. Between the party of six, conversation was little to none, although Mayor Jameson was having a heated discussion with Archer about football.
“So, how is everyone’s dinner?” asked James Jameson.
Everyone paused and slowly looked up at the mayor.
“Just fine,” answered Esme, bitterly.
Now, this was an interesting group of people. Being at the top of the “food chain” they all knew each other, but didn’t exactly consider each other friends (other than Ardella and Gina). The mayor was always trying to be friendly, but his attempts at conversation were sometimes less than welcome.
These six were never really in the same place at the same time, and many just thought of the others as pieces on a game board. As in, ‘Oh, if Person A makes so much money I’ll be profiting too, but if Person B makes more money than Person A, I’ll start to lose money.’ The relationships were all about business, in the material world that these people lived in.
Archer intervened, “Pardon me for a moment while I go and check on the master. As I said before, he will be joining us after dinner.”
As he turned to leave, Gina continued to break the silence. “Excuse me, sir, I was wondering if there is a bathroom that I could use.”
Archer gestured his way. “Follow me, Mrs. Davis.” The two walked out of the room and around the corner, and the silence resumed. Ardella went back to her steak.
The storm carried on outside, bringing an unsettling feeling to the room. After many minutes, Gina Davis still hadn’t returned from the bathroom, and neither had Archer from upstairs.
“Do you think everything is okay?” asked Tanner. “Should I go—”
He was cut off as a blood curdling scream rang out through the house.
“Gina!” yelled Tanner, as he jumped up and ran out of the room. Ardella swiftly followed him, and the rest of the guests hurriedly came along. After turning a corner, Ardella approached the bathroom.
Tanner pushed open the cracked door to reveal Gina Davis, lying on the bathroom floor, dead.
Ardella screamed, and backed away from the scene.
“What’s going on?” shouted a confused James Jameson at the back of the group.
Tanner Davis was kneeling on the floor, his wife’s head in his lap.
Archer was suspiciously sitting on the sink counter, arms and legs folded. The sink was overflowing behind him, and he reached around to turn it off.
“What happened?” gasped Esme. The group filed into the crowded bathroom. Ardella propped herself up on the counter, next to Archer.
“As soon as I heard the scream I ran in here, but I guess I was too late...” Tanner paused for a moment to take a shaky breath. “She was already dead.” Tears were streaming down his handsome face. “Who could have done this?” he asked to no one in particular.
He quickly whirled around to point a finger at Archer. “You! You were already here when I came!”
Archer raised both his hands to convey innocence. “The only reason I was here before you is because I was closer to the bathroom. I was on my way down from checking on the master, when I heard the scream. The door was closed, so I didn’t see anything. Besides, what could I have killed her with? There is nothing in this bathroom that could be used as a weapon,” he stated defiantly.
Ardella looked around. It was true. The room was spotless, and there was barely anything in it (other than the crowded guests, plus Archer).
“You could have drowned her!” shouted Tanner, pointing to the bathtub full of water.
This time Ardella countered, defending Archer. “The rose petals on the top look undisturbed, other than that puddle of water near the sink.” She pointed to a spot on the floor, where the overflowing sink had spilled onto the ground. “If he did drown her, he’d have to have put the petals on afterwards.”
Archer shifted uncomfortably.
“No one leaves the building until we find out who killed my wife!” said Tanner.
The only things out of the ordinary in the bathroom was the puddle on the floor, and a few drips of Gina’s blood.
“It looks like she was hit on the head,” observed Esme. “Do you think maybe... she just slipped on the puddle of water?”
While Tanner was yelling at Esme, Ardella took this idea into consideration. Gina couldn’t of just slipped and died. First, the sink was still running when they all got here. The puddle couldn’t of been here when Gina first entered the bathroom. And second, the impact on the floor alone wouldn’t of killed her. So it has to be someone here, thought Ardella.
Leroy Ciciera had been very quite the entire time, standing in the corner.
WE NOW TAKE A BRIEF MOMENT to display Ardella’s thought process. . .
The Innocent?
Oliver Archer- He’s proven himself “innocent” already, but how can we know that he’s not lying? He’s looked uncomfortable this entire time, and never mentioned the sink once, when he was the one to turn it off. What was he really doing while checking on his master?
Tanner Davis- What reason would he have for killing his own wife? They were said to be madly in love.
James Jameson- The mayor? Why would the mayor kill an actress? Or kill anyone at all? Surely, he wouldn’t need to. It’d just put a mark on his perfect record.
The Suspicious?
Esme Durand- Years ago, she fell hopelessly in love with Tanner. He never returned the feeling, and soon married Gina. Esme has hated the two (especially Gina) ever since. Is this her way to get revenge?
Leroy Robin- He would do anything for money, but would he kill? And since Tanner is still alive, what would he get out of killing only Gina?
Mr. O’Connor- Who is this man!? And why haven’t we seen him? He didn’t even show up when someone was murdered in his own bathroom. Something doesn’t feel right here. . .
Rain continued to shower the house, and lightning flashed across the sky. It was going to be a long night. Ardella looked around at the possible killers and asked herself the fateful question: Who did it?
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