THERE WERE TWELVE OF US TO BEGIN WITH
By Ian Gordon With thanks to our producers, Ashley Lindsay,
Robert Daniel Pickard, Wes Sale, and Camerin Seigars Chapter Five: “Yellow Jacket”
December 28th, 1989 It had been an unwelcome power cut that had
plunged the ten contestants into complete and total blackness.
A planned event, most had assumed. But was it?
The lights in the library were out for a good minute or so, which, in terms of time spent
in the void amounted to a very long period indeed. There was shouting and shuffling,
fumbling and tumbling, and a great deal of bewilderment, as the blinded guests struggled
to get their bearings. Even Green Drake’s candle had been snuffed out, which made it—and
the lighter lying beside it—impossible to locate in the darkness.
When the lights flickered back on some seventy seconds later, there stood nine, were before
had stood ten. But this wasn’t immediately noticed by the squinting contestants, each
of them caught up in the act of collecting both themselves, and the various items of
furniture they’d unwittingly knocked to the ground during the blackout.
Black Garden, the man who had been keeping a close eye on Yellow Jacket, was the first
to notice she was no longer among them. “Where is she?” he blurted, so concerned
that he failed to refer to her by name. “Who’s missing?” False Widow asked,
her gaze dancing from guest to guest. “Yellow Jacket,” answered Green Drake,
a note of disappointment in his voice. But White Admiral, the suspicious drunk, was
having none of it. “Stooge,” he coughed. “She’s gone
the way of the other two, now. And you,” he added, turning accusing eyes to Black Garden,
“you’re a liar.” “Me?” Black Garden returned. “Care to
elaborate?” “Yeah—it hit me like a tonne of bricks
when the lights came back on. You weren’t there when Yellow Jacket drew her name from
the hat. In fact, if memory serves, you rolled in after eight—an hour after she did.”
“Damn!” Andrena blurted, recalling Black Garden’s arrival.
“How did I miss that?”—This, from Green Drake, whose memory of December 26th wasn’t
quite as clear as he would’ve liked it to be.
Tuts and scowls formed the basis of the ensuing reactions, as, with a shrug of his shoulders,
Black Garden proffered, “I must’ve watched New Forest or False Widow draw their name
then—I’m pretty sure at least one of those two arrived after I did.”
“Bullshit!” Green Drake blurted. “People,” he continued enthusiastically, pointing at
Black Garden, “allow me to present, our first confirmed stooge.”
“Wait a minute,” Black Garden began, waving his hands about, “I’m not a stooge. It’s
just that the lady in the yellow dress caught my eye, and, you know, we were all drinking,
and, somehow…” He trailed off, discouraged by the sceptical
eyes that met his. “It’s okay,” Green Drake said reassuringly,
“it’s just a game after all. You’ll just have to deal with the fact that we’re
all going to keep a close eye on you moving forward!”
And the man in the gaudy dress shirt laughed heartily.
“Busted!” White Admiral scoffed, eyeballing the man in the Fair Isle cardigan.
Black Garden just shrugged his shoulders dismissively. If he had a secret to hide, nothing in the
look upon his pale face suggested as much. But still, the idea that a confirmed stooge
could be in their midst, coupled with the sudden disappearance of Yellow Jacket, served
to reinvigorate the game’s participants. Scarlet Darter stepped forward.
“Back to the game at hand—where do you suppose they’re hiding?” he asked, addressing
the room at large. “The stooges?” White Admiral ventured.
“Yeah,” Scarlet Darter confirmed, “I mean, I know it’s a game and all, but they’ve
got to be here somewhere. Wouldn’t stand much of a chance out there in the storm.”
“Miller’s Manor’s a big place,” New Forest offered, “it’s got to be full of
hidden rooms and corridors.” “The library, for example,” Green Drake
added. “It’s exactly the kind of place you’d expect to find a secret door.”
“A secret door through which a stooge might disappear during a power outage?”—This,
from White Admiral, keen to advance his agenda, whilst casting dubious glances at Black Garden. At last, Black Garden, over whom a veil of
doubt had been thrown, announced that he intended to leave his present company, in order to
seek out clues regarding the disappearance of Yellow Jacket.
And off he went, sniffing the air like a dog. New Forest, Green Drake, and White Admiral,
made a search of the library, repeatedly removing and replacing dozens of books in attempts
to trigger some sort of hidden mechanism. Their efforts, though steadfast, yielded nothing
whatsoever. Scarlet Darter, Andrena, and False Widow,
committed themselves to a search of the ground floor: reception hall; dining room; kitchen;
study; games room; and a couple of as-of-yet unvisited rooms, in quest of clues.
Nothing was revealed: no one in the silent laundry room; no signs of movement in the
extensive larder; and no evidence to suggest any recent trips to the shadowy cloakroom.
Nightcrawler and Bluebottle, descended into the basement—a dark, labyrinthine system
of tunnels and low-ceilinged rooms, host to long-forgotten furniture and never-to-be-recovered
detritus. The dimly lit passageways were less than inviting, and, following a close encounter
with the rumbling of the manor’s gargantuan boiler, the pair retreated at speed, more
than satisfied to dismiss the basement as a likely hideout for the missing guests.
Black Garden’s efforts were uninspiring, too. He wandered up and down the gallery on
the first floor several times, paying visits to the rooms of Grey Dagger, Longhorn, Yellow
Jacket, and his own, respectively, finding nothing of note in any of them, other than
the previously discovered beetle in Grey Dagger’s bed. He looked for hidden doors in the wooden
panelling lining the gallery and its connecting corridors, but, much to his chagrin, he failed
to locate any hollow sounding sections hinting at concealed domains within.
In the end, he abandoned his search, and returned to the ground floor in order to reconvene
with the other contestants. As the day progressed, the nine remaining
guests came no closer to solving the mystery of Yellow Jacket’s sudden disappearance.
Black Garden had insisted that he wasn’t a stooge, repeatedly citing the fact that
he’d been attracted to the lady in the yellow dress, and that his memory of events as they
transpired on the 26th were fuzzy as a result. Some chose to believe him. Others, particularly
White Admiral and Green Drake, chose to keep a close eye on him.
All, however, agreed that Yellow Jacket was a stooge—this, substantiated by the facts
that, Black Garden hadn’t, after all, watched her draw her name from the top hat, and the
assumption that those going missing would have to be in on it.
The nature of murder mystery events in general was a subject of much debate later that evening,
when each of the guests, having individually had their fill of microwaveable ready meals,
gathered in the reception hall by the fireplace. Drinks were poured, and the fire was lit—Nightcrawler
seeing to it that sizeable flames were dancing, before helping himself to his share of the
brandy. “I’ve been to these things before, you
know,” said False Widow, her striking features aglow in the firelight. “They’ve always
been highly organised. But this just feels so … chaotic—feels … off somehow.”
“I’ve been thinking the same thing,” Scarlet Darter agreed. “There’s so little
to go on. And with the storm raging out there, I’m beginning to feel more like a prisoner
than a participant. Just look at it…”—he motioned to the large window on the west wall,
dark with snow—“We couldn’t leave if we wanted to.”
White Admiral stepped forward, already a drink or two ahead of the others.
“Which in itself is odd,” he said. “I mean, you’d think the organisers of this
thing would be a little concerned about us being trapped up here… But not a bit of
it—things are plodding along regardless.” “Fools and the foolish,” New Forest mumbled,
mostly to herself. Green Drake caught it though.
“What was that?” he asked, not understanding. “Fools and the foolish—as in, despite
our misgivings, we’re playing the game anyway.” Bluebottle tutted.
“I, for one, would rather not be playing the game,” he announced, shaking his head.
And then it was Andrena’s turn to speak—her train of thought returning to the subject
of stooges. “How many stooges can there be, anyway?”
the middle-aged lady asked. “Three, four, five? More? How many of you, here, right now,
are in on it? Any one of us could be—we can’t just point the finger at Black Garden.
And the host—the killer—is that one of you, too? And as for the murders—are we
to assume that when the killer catches us, we’re simply told to go into hiding with
the others?” The other guests simply glared at Andrena,
each of them silently considering her inquiries. There were no definite answers to provide
her with, and, as evidenced by their taciturnity, if any of the present contestants were stooges,
they were in no immediate rush to announce themselves as such.
As for the host—or, killer—their methods and motivations were yet to be revealed—or,
as per the rules of the game, discovered. And it was with that uncertainty in mind,
that the guests in the reception hall, Black Garden included, decided to stick together
for the remainder of the evening, before retiring a little after 9:00 p.m. The following morning, having slept long and
peacefully owing to the universal locking of bedroom doors, the guests once again gathered
in the dining room, to partake in the consumption of toast.
The storm had subsided, but the huge, unconquerable snowdrifts remained.
The quiet from without seeped into the manor. The contestants ate in complete silence, eyeballing
one another cautiously, their suspicions—thanks to Andrena’s questions the previous evening—no
longer focused solely upon the man who wore the Fair Isle cardigan.
After breakfast, they each went their separate ways, some choosing to read in the library,
and others taking the opportunity to practice billiards and darts in the games room just
south of the library. Noon came and went, and late afternoon was
upon them before anything of real significance occurred.
The light was fading fast, when Bluebottle, seeking the comfort of brandy in the reception
hall, happened upon something truly remarkable. He called to the others, who, in their increasing
boredom, were only too thrilled to come rushing to his side, in order to see what all the
fuss was about. There, in front of the fireplace, which had
been lit by persons unknown, lay a striking work of art composed of what appeared to be
thick, brown hair. Long strands of the stuff had been tied together in thin clumps, forming
the curves and lines of a large creature, sprawled out across the light oak floor. The
flickering fire above animated the beast, the shadows it produced giving it substance,
life. There was the suggestion of scales—vast, beating wings—serpentine legs—sharp talons—a
great head—an enormous snout—a forked tongue licking at the flames in the fireplace.
“What on Earth is it?” asked an awed Andrena. “It’s a dragon,” whispered Green Drake.
“Is it made of … hair?” muttered False Widow.
“Sure looks like it,” said Nightcrawler. “Human hair?”—This, again, from the
awed lips of Andrena. “It looks like Yellow Jacket’s,” Black
Garden observed. White Admiral hesitated, before adding:
“Wouldn’t that be taking things a little too far?”
“How far is too far?” asked New Forest. “This far,” answered Bluebottle, motioning
towards the display before him. A moment of silence followed, before Scarlet
Darter broke it. “It’s me,” he announced.
“What?” Green Drake asked, turning to face him.
“The dragon—scarlet darter—I’m a dragonfly. We’re all insects, arachnids, and the like.”—He
paused momentarily—”Grey Dagger … remember the clue in the book?”
“The moth sleeps like the dead,” quoted New Forest.
“That’s it—the grey dagger moth,” confirmed Scarlet Darter. “Longhorn, a beetle.
Yellow Jacket, a wasp.” “But what does it mean?” asked White Admiral,
who, even as he asked the question, was contemplating just what form of insect a white admiral might
be. Scarlet Darter answered:
“It means, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s more to this game than meets the eye. We should
watch our backs.” “What’re you implying?” quizzed Andrena,
her usual jovialness a million miles away. But nobody answered her.
The nine contestants simply gazed at the shape of the dragon on the floor beneath them, its
sharp tongue a sinister omen of what, presumably, was to follow.
But just what might that be? Questions were eventually asked—mostly along
the lines of whose hair it was that lay on the floor, and whether or not the artist was
one of the missing, or one of the nine remaining guests. But, just as the case had been during
their search of the property the previous day, absolutely nothing was forthcoming.
It was suggested, on more than one occasion, that Scarlet Darter remain under constant
supervision for the remainder of the day, but, the moustachioed Eastern European insisted
that his safety was his own responsibility. This, of course, led to further suspicion,
particularly in the eyes of White Admiral, who thereafter began to consider the possibility
that the handsome individual was stooge number four. He was still keeping an eye on Black
Garden, too, though he had made a conscious decision to label only victims—or would-be
victims—as obvious stooges, moving forward. MURDER at Miller’s Manor was proving to
be, by all accounts, a murder mystery event like no other—one in which its participants
were harbouring misgivings and forebodings—doubts that the game they had all signed up for,
truly was, in fact, a game. And as they filed away that evening, some
mildly inebriated, others just plain tired, many wondered if Scarlet Darter would be there
at the breakfast table the following morning.