The Perfect Night
CHAPTER
2
Part 2- The Hunt
Archer coughed.
Tanner coughed louder.
Esme rolled her eyes and muttered something under her breath.
Leroy continued to avoid making eye contact with anyone.
James pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and dabbed at his balding head, which was glistening with sweat.
Ardella spoke.
“So... one of us obviously did it. Anyone want to confess?”
Silence.
Archer stood up and cleared his throat. “I suggest we split up and search the house. There are only four other people who live here, besides me, and they happen to be the two maids, the cook, and Mr. O’Connor. However, someone else could have snuck in to crash the party.”
“What if one of us really did do it, and that’s the partner we get stuck with? I’m not searching the house for a possible killer with a possible killer,” said James in a panicked voice.
“The killer wouldn’t be able to commit another crime without exposing themselves,” pointed out Esme, as she scanned the fellow guests. “We’re splitting into pairs, right?
Archer nodded. “Choose wisely.”
The duos fell naturally into place. James instantly began begging Tanner to be his partner, which Ardella found to be quite hilarious, despite everything that had just happened. Leroy nudged Esme, who scoffed huffily, “Fine!”
And that left... Ardella looked around.
Oh.
That left her and Archer. Archer beamed his pearly white smile at her, and she awkwardly faked one back. Of course, out of all the people here, she had to get stuck with the one she trusted the least, the far-too-handsome butler she had only met an hour ago.
“Alright. Since the house has three floors, each pair will be searching one. Ardella and I will take the upstairs, Leroy and Esme can search the main floor, and James and Tanner have the basement.”
James made a high pitched squeak, and immediately covered his mouth with a pudgy hand.
“If anyone finds anything, yell loud enough to alert another group. We’ll meet back in the dining room after twenty minutes. Any questions?” asked Archer. “No? Good. Let’s make this happen.”
The odd group filed out of the cramped bathroom and back into the hallway. Gina’s body was left lying on the cold bathroom floor. “The scene of the crime stays exactly as it is,” Tanner had insisted.
The teams split up, each one going to their assigned floor.
“C’mon!” said Archer, grabbing Ardella by the wrist. She hurried to keep up with him, stepping carefully in her high heels. The spiral staircase was very long, and by the time she had reached the top, Ardella was exhausted.
“Here’s the plan.” Archer, down to business, as usual. “I’ll search the rooms on the left, and you’ll search the ones on the right.”
Ardella looked down the long hallway. It easily had doors for twenty rooms, if not more. Would they be able to get it all done in time?
Archer was still talking. “...blah blah blah, if you see anything suspicious come get me.”
“Okay, okay, I get it Mr. Paranoid,” teased Ardella.
She walked off towards the right side of the hallway and opened the first door. Inside awaited an elegant bedroom, filled to the brim with luxuries. A king sized bed, a polished wooden dresser and a massive flat screen TV. Ardella inspected the room, but found nothing unusual.
On to the next one.
Ardella continued on to check the rest of the rooms. Archer was on the other side of the hall, opening doors, walking into rooms, and then slamming the doors, clearly frustrated. Ardella sighed. This was the sixth room, and nothing suspicious so far.
She walked over to open the door, only to realize it was locked. Does this count as suspicious? she wondered. Ardella turned the knob again. No luck.
“Archer!” she called, then instantly cursed herself under her breath. It probably wasn’t a good idea to be yelling when a murderer was on the loose. Although, Archer had been slamming doors like crazy earlier, so whoever was here was probably already aware of their presence.
Archer stuck his head out from behind one of the doors. “Do you need something?”
“This door is locked.”
Archer raised his eyebrows. “Oh. I guess I forgot to tell you. That’s Mr. O’Connor’s bedroom. I’ll check in here and make sure everything is okay. You can go on to the next room.” He pulled a key out of his pocket and opened the door. Ardella attempted to peer in, but she only managed to see a sliver of the room until the door was closed again.
Ardella, this is your chance. The only thing standing in the way between you and Mr. O’Connor is Archer. . .
. . .
Ardella pressed the hidden compartment on the back of her right shoe, and slid out a slender knife. It would have to do. She pressed up against the door, heart pounding furiously in her chest. Ardella gripped the door handle and turned slowly. . .
Suddenly, off in the distance, someone screamed.
Ardella jumped, and quickly stuffed her knife in the first place that came to mind, down the front of her dress. She prayed that no one would see it, and that it wouldn’t end up cutting off something vital.
The door of Mr. O’Connor’s room sprang open, and Archer came rushing out.
“What’s going on?” he exclaimed.
“I don’t know!” Ardella was already flustered enough, worrying about the knife pressed against her chest.
“Hurry!” said Archer, motioning for Ardella to follow him.
He rushed down the hallway and quickly navigated the stairs. Ardella’s mind was working overtime. Was it another murder? If so, who?
Ardella turned a sharp corner to run directly into Esme.
“What’s going on?” cried Ardella.
Esme pointed straight ahead, paying no attention to Ardella. Leroy dashed in front of her and opened the basement door. The two of them ran down quickly, footsteps echoing on the metal stairs.
Archer whirled around to stare at Ardella before promptly turning to run after Esme and Leroy. Ardella stopped at the top of the basement stairs and peered into the dark abyss of the basement. She could see why James didn’t want to come down here. Ardella took a deep breath, and then walked down into the dark.
At the bottom of the steps, she spotted Archer, who was scowling angrily. The sound of enraged voices echoed throughout the spacious room. Boxes were piled up, occupying almost the entire floor. Ardella read some of the hastily scrawled labels.
Kitchen
Clothes
Do Not Open
A single lightbulb hanging from the ceiling illuminated the shadowy room. Ardella made the decision to interrupt the fierce argument. “Is everyone okay? Archer and I heard someone yelling.”
Tanner crossed his arms and pointed a finger toward James. “A spider decided to sneak up on this guy, and apparently that was worth alerting everyone.”
James fidgeted awkwardly from behind Tanner, and again began dabbing sweat off his forehead.
Archer sighed and pulled out his pocket watch. “Well, twenty minutes is up. We might as well head back to the dining room. Who’s hungry?”
A few glum cheers followed his remark. The defeated group walked back up the basement stairs, and made their way to the dining room.
Ardella glanced at the grandfather clock. It was 11:30, and still raining. She stood in the dining room, wondering what would become of her.
She didn’t have to wait long.
The room suddenly plunged into darkness. Ardella instinctively reached for her knife, but both of her hands were being restrained behind her back.
“Let go of me!” shouted Ardella, as she struggled against the stranger’s strong grip. The room was pitch black, but she could hear similar struggles taking place across the room.
Hit across the back of the knees, Ardella’s legs gave way and she plopped down into a chair. A rope was quickly being tightened around her midsection and ankles, restricting nearly all movement.
Ardella rolled her eyes (though no one could see it). Great, now I’m a hostage.
The lights were thrown violently back on, nearly blinding Ardella. She blinked furiously, trying to see what in the world was going on.
WE NOW TAKE A BRIEF MOMENT to assess Ardella’s perilous predicament. . .
The Guests: Each tied up in chairs forming a circle in the middle of the dining room
The Satisfied Looking Archer: Pacing in the middle of the circle, looking far too pleased with himself
The Rain: Showing no signs of stopping
The Mood: Showing no signs of becoming any less sinister
The Maid Making Intense Eye Contact With Ardella: Making intense eye contact with Ardella
“Well, well, well,” sneered Archer, all traces of handsome vanishing from his face. “What do we have here?”
Ardella stared back at the maid. She had wavy brown hair, blue eyes, and was in the corner of the room, still staring at Ardella. She whispered something to the other maid next to her, and then pointed secretively at Ardella. The second maid instantly started whispering to the cook.
Ardella shook her head to clear her thoughts. What was going on here? She turned her attention back to Archer.
“Explain yourself!” shouted Tanner, struggling against his restraints.
All around the room, others were shouting in agreement.
“We all know who killed Gina now,” hissed Esme, nearly toppling her chair.
Archer held a finger up to his lips. “That, my friend, is where you’d be wrong. Colleen, cue the lights.”
The maid who was previously staring at Ardella walked out towards the light switch. “Oliver, you and your theatrics,” she teased, dimming the lights to a romantic glow.
“That will be enough from you,” growled Archer. “So. Let’s cut to the chase. No need to sugarcoat it. Seven deaths were planned tonight, but only one actually took place. And the kill wasn’t my doing.”
Pause for effect.
“You may have heard of Mr. O’Connor’s famous dinner parties before. Probably on the news, disguised as a freak accident. Alice Rey- ‘Disappeared while skiing.’ Clancy Carter- ‘Drowned in his own swimming pool.’ Both are two I’m rather proud of.”
Ardella looked at him with disgust. “So these dinner parties are just a way for you to kill off celebrities?”
Archer answered her question. “By providing information on certain cases, this is my way of making money. And a lot of it, as you can see,” he said, smugly gesturing to the riches in the room around him.
“Tonight was supposed to be just like any of those other nights. It was supposed to be the perfect night,” grumbled Archer. “By dessert, all of you would have felt safe enough to eat my meals without question. A little of our poisonous friend in each of your desserts, for a quick, painless death. However, someone beat me to the punch.” He threw up his hands in distaste.
Ardella was quietly in shock. How could things have turned so fast?
“Surely, by now, you’ve realized there is no hope,” continued Archer. “But, if whoever killed Gina reveals themselves...”
Ardella could feel everyone in the room holding their breath.
“...they will be spared.”
“I did it!”
Everyone turned to stare at Tanner Davis.
“I knew it!” exclaimed Colleen, from her corner. She pointed at Archer with a triumphant expression on her face. “I knew it was him, but you refused to believe me.”
Ardella was on the verge of tears. “Tanner, how could you!? I knew Gina, I thought I knew you.”
“You thought wrong. I never loved her, not for a minute. But she was filthy rich, making twice as much as I do, so the payoff was worth it. Archer, you and I seem to be of the same mind. I poisoned her meal, while no one was looking. Although it was a bit slow, it got the job done in the end.”
Tanner looked around the room, skipping over Ardella’s crestfallen face. “Anyone else want to come clean?” he said, only half-joking. “This is the most dishonest group of people I’ve ever seen.”
“Fine! I guess I didn’t exactly have the best intentions tonight, either,” revealed Leroy. “After I got rid of you, Mayor-”
James’s eyes widened to the size of dinner plates.
“-I would have nothing standing in the way when I go to double my business. No more of that ‘saving the environment’ crap that you keep bringing up.”
“You think you’re soooo smart,” spat James. “Getting rid of me wouldn’t rid you of all the regulations I’ve already put in place. Besides, I was planning to extend my wealth by killing Mr. O’Connor, but that didn’t happen.”
Ardella watched as her so called “friends” continued to reveal the devious acts they had planned tonight. Esme confessed that she was indeed going to kill Gina, as she never got over Tanner turning her down. Archer turned from person to person, never appearing surprised when they revealed their true intentions.
The group finally rounded on Ardella.
“C’mon, you’re the only one left who hasn’t admitted to anything. You know he’s going to kill us all anyway,” reasoned Esme.
“Did you ever think that I might want to die with some of my dignity still intact?” shot back Ardella.
Everyone in the room, including Archer and Colleen, stared at her.
Ardella took a deep breath, and gave in.
“Okay, okay! So I was going after Mr. O’Connor! That doesn’t make me any less of a person, because I still haven’t killed anyone,” she confessed.
“How... touching,” interrupted Archer. “But you’re wasting my time. I don’t care who was going to kill who. The only one doing any more killing tonight is going to be me. So without further ado...”
He pulled a metal revolver out from underneath his vest, and turned to point it at Tanner.
“...Let’s get things started.”
“But- but wait!” stuttered Tanner, “You promised to spare whoever confessed!”
Archer laughed. “You really think I was being serious?” He sighed, and began twirling the weapon in his hand. “It would have been so much easier if things had worked out. I don’t really prefer to do things this way, it’s rather messy.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Ardella noticed Colleen swiftly making her way behind Archer. He was still going on about what an inconvenience this night was becoming. He pointed the revolver back up at Tanner, ready to pull the trigger, when Colleen rushed in front of him.
“Not so fast, brother.”
Ardella gasped as Colleen pulled out a matching revolver from inside her cardigan.
“What do you think you’re doing?” snarled Archer. He reached out an arm to push Colleen aside, but she expertly dodged it.
Colleen took a deep breath and raised her arm to point the weapon at Archer. “These games have gone on for far too long. I can’t continue to support this.” She gestured around at the tied up guests.
“Fine. I’ll go through you too, if I have to,” grumbled Archer.
Ardella had to strain to hear as Colleen leaned in close to Archer, and whispered something in his ear. “I switched the guns. Yours is filled with blanks.”
She abruptly pushed him backwards, and he stumbled into the middle of the circle. Archer furiously pulled at his gun, but Colleen was right. It was filled with nothing but blanks.
Ardella watched in awe, now filled with the possible hope of surviving. Colleen had turned the tables, now raising her arm to shoot at Archer.
“Goodbye.”
“Colleen, wait-” gasped Archer.
Colleen thrust her arm upwards, shooting at the metal chain suspending the chandelier above them. Ardella started screaming, and Collen threw herself backwards, barely missing the enormous chandelier as it fell from the ceiling. It landed directly on top of Archer, sending broken glass everywhere. He fell to the floor with a resounding thud, and the room fell silent.
Ardella was in shock, staring at the massive chandelier pinning Archer to the ground.
“Oh, don’t worry, he’s not dead,” Colleen assured. She surveyed the shell-shocked guests. When no one spoke, she continued on. “I’m awfully sorry about that. My brother Oliver can sometimes get carried away.”
Still, no one said anything. Ardella was holding her breath, waiting for whatever was going to happen next.
“So...” began Colleen, “I’m considering just letting you leave. One at a time, so there’s to be no funny business. And just remember, if you ever let anything slip about what goes on up here...” Her face suddenly went dark. “Just keep in mind that I know a few things about you that wouldn’t go over so well if they got out to the general public, okay?” The cheery smile returned to her face.
Everyone nodded, just thankful to still be alive.
“I’ll let you go first, Ardella.” Colleen grabbed a knife from the dinner table and cut through the ropes binding Ardella to her chair.
The minute she felt the ropes give way, Ardella slipped out of her high heels, scooped them up, and then made a mad dash for the exit. She threw open the heavy doors and ran out into the night. Her driver was parked down the road, and Ardella sprinted through the drizzle of rain.
Her driver opened the door, and Ardella threw herself into the car. She plopped down on the leather seat, all dignity already lost.
“Did you enjoy yourself, Ms. Ardella?” asked her driver, politely.
Ardella looked back at the mansion, as it receded behind her. The moon was shrouded in clouds, glowing eerily in the night sky.
“So much for the perfect night.”
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