It was hump day. Only two more days until not just the weekend, but Halloween weekend.
The school was putting together a huge party, for which I was in charge of organizing games and activities. I was so excited that I hadn’t been able to sleep the entire week.
As I walked through the hall on my way to first period, I saw Emma huddled by her locker. Marcus was right behind her, and from the looks of things, Emma was annoyed with him. It wasn’t an unusual sight though, and it made me wonder if anything was going on between them. Not that I’d ever ask. Marcus had made it very clear that no one was allowed to bother the Vicious Vagrants plus one, the plus one being Emma. That included prying into their relationship.
Just two weeks ago, Emma had been absent several days, which had worried me. I knew it had to have something to do with everyone bullying her, and I’d been ridden with guilt for agreeing to keep silent, vowing that next time, I’d tell someone.
Thankfully though, Emma hadn’t done anything to harm herself, the way many victims of bullying did in the news, and when she finally returned, the Vicious Vagrants had put on quite a flamboyant show, scaring everyone to stay away from Emma. Thanks to their antics, nobody had picked on her since then. Even Lindsey and Darlene seemed to have learned their lesson, having been caught by Principal Tate as they attempted to throw eggs at Emma.
I sauntered up to Emma’s locker to say hi to the bickering couple. “Good morning. What’s got you two all wired up about so early in the morning?”
“Oh, hi Jasmine,” Marcus grumbled. “We’re just talking about the Halloween party this weekend. Emma says she doesn’t want to go, but I’m trying to convince her it’ll be fun.”
It was doubtful that Marcus was making a very convincing argument, especially since he didn’t look like he wanted to attend either. But the Halloween party was all anyone could talk about. Penelope Lockhart, CEO of Splash and Spray, the most successful perfume company in the world, had for some reason or the other, invited the school to have our party at the Lockhart mansion.
“Of course it’ll be fun,” I exclaimed, intending to convince Marcus just as much as Emma. “I’m in charge of activities. We’re supposed to have a mansion murder mystery in the house, and outside, there’s even a maze where zombies chase you.”
“Zombies?” Marcus’s face went a little pale, and I gave him a questioning look. “It’s nothing. See Emma? It’ll be great.” He still didn’t sound like he believed his own words, which made me wonder why exactly he was trying to persuade Emma. “Anyway, maybe you can convince her, Jas.” He dismissed himself, looking as if he’d swallowed a bug.
“Emma, why exactly don’t you want to attend the party?” I asked. Maybe if I knew her exact reasons, I could be more persuasive.
“I feel like we’re invading someone else’s house,” Emma said a little bitterly.
“I’m sure Mrs. Lockhart doesn’t feel that way, or she wouldn’t have invited us,” I said quickly. “And it’s such a great chance to tour the mansion of the most famous family in our city.”
“Nobody will talk to me,” was her next argument.
“Which is exactly why you should go. This is the chance to make friends.” I assessed her figure. “You’re a pretty girl. Dress up in a fabulous costume, and all the guys will be asking you to dance.” I smiled at her in sympathy. I could understand that most people didn’t want to attend parties where most of the guests had at one time been mean and malicious. “As for the girls, there are nice ones in this school, despite what you might have experienced. But don’t worry, if you really find you have no one to talk to, come and find me.”
At the corner of my eye, I saw Julie wave. With one last reassurance that I’d be an available friend anytime, even if not at the party, I excused myself to talk to Julie.
“I’m so excited about visiting the Lockhart mansion,” Julie exclaimed, her eyes gleaming for a different reason than everyone else. Having fun was secondary to her main reason—the chance to uncover a good story. “The granddaughter has to be haunting that house, dead or alive.”
“Oooo…haunted mansion,” I joked. Because Penelope Lockhart’s granddaughter, Emmaline, had never made a public appearance in years, there were various rumors circulating about her. One was that she was already dead. A spin-off was that her spirit was haunting the mansion. Another rumor was that she was bedridden from a terminal disease. And a totally ridiculous rumor was that she was a vampire, unable to expose herself to sunlight. Having learned a great deal about the grieving process from Julie’s mom, personally, I believed Emmaline Lockhart had probably passed away long ago, and her grandmother was still in the denial stage of her grief. Everyone had their own timing in dealing with tragedies. “I wonder how the granddaughter died,” I commented. “Poor girl. Such a tragedy to die so young.”
Julie replied, saying something about her own theory that the granddaughter was still alive, and she would prove it. It was nothing I hadn’t heard before. Like everyone else, I was more interested in learning what Emmaline Lockhart was like. If she was still alive, she’d be my age. Probably a beautiful girl. “I wonder if the granddaughter was pretty,” I thought out loud. “Bet she was. All rich girls have that elegant, sparkling quality to them. We’ll have to find a picture.” Somewhere in the Lockhart mansion, there had to be a picture to satisfy my curiosity.
“Now you’re talking.” Julie’s eyes glittered deviously. “A picture would be gold for the paper.”
“What picture?” A low baritone made both of us whirl around. Adam stood there, his camera fastened around his neck.
“Emmaline Lockhart’s,” Julie glanced at Adam and smirked. “What do you say? You want in?”
There was a clueless look on Adam’s face. “Do I want in to do what?”
Julie rolled her eyes, as though it were obvious. “To finally get Emmaline Lockhart’s picture and uncover the real story behind her elusive existence.” With a hand, she gestured to the three of us. “The mansion murder mystery during the party will be the perfect cover up. While everyone is busy trying to flesh out the murderer before they become victims, we’ll uncover the real mystery of Emmaline Lockhart.”
“Oh no,” I said, shaking my head fanatically. “I was just kidding earlier. I don’t want to take part in this. All I want to do is have fun.”
“Come on Jas,” Julie pleaded. “You’re in charge of planning the murder mystery, so you’ll know exactly when and where everyone will be at a given moment in order for us to avoid them. We need you.”
“Wait a minute, I haven’t agreed either,” Adam said. “What if we’re caught, and Mrs. Lockhart has us arrested?”
“I’ll do it if Adam does it,” I took the chance to say. “He’s not daring enough, which means I’m safe.”
He looked at me, a little offended. “Are you daring me?”
“No, I’m just saying I don’t think you’d risk getting in trouble. You wouldn’t, would you?” Now I hesitated, not quite sure.
“Just for doubting my courage, I will do it,” he said.
“Which means Jas has to,” Julie exclaimed, clapping her hands in glee, and then giving me a little ferocious glare. “And no take backs.”
I groaned. It looked like the weekend was going to be far more exciting than I’d wished, all thanks to the enigmatic Emmaline Lockhart.
Around three o’clock Saturday afternoon, I arrived at the front gate of the Lockhart mansion with the rest of the set-up crew. The house was like a castle. I’d never seen a house that had four stories before.
Mindy Chen, the junior class president, looked at me, mouth agape, and I knew her awe mirrored mine. “Wow,” was all she said.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to decorate the entire house in two weeks, much less two hours,” I remarked.
We didn’t have to worry about that though, since we’d already been told that the basement, third, and fourth floors were off limits to the party. A man dressed in formal attire greeted us at the gate. Judging by his polite, yet slightly condescending air, I knew he must be the butler.
“I’m Marlin,” he introduced himself. “It is Mrs. Penelope Lockhart’s privilege to host Orchid High’s Halloween party this year. But before I allow you inside, I must go over a few ground rules.” Once he took a pair of spectacles from his front pocket and adjusted them on the tip of his nose, he read off a long list of rules. I only half listened, knowing that by the end of the night, I’d probably end up breaking most of them, thanks to Julie and Adam.
But now that we were looking for clues to confirm Emmaline Lockhart’s existence, I couldn’t help but feel a little excited. It wasn’t every day that I could take a break from boring homework assignments and test papers to locate the whereabouts of an elusive heiress.
“I’d again like to make clear that the basement, third, and fourth floors are restricted territory,” Marlin said. To my ears, it meant those places would be the likeliest to find traces of Emmaline Lockhart. The bedrooms were either on the third or fourth floor, and if Emmaline Lockhart were still alive, she would be there.
Marlin’s boring little speech concluded, and we eagerly rushed through the gate, and headed into the front entrance. Fascinated, I looked all around, at all the intricate designs of the staircase, the expensive Chippendale furniture in the living room, the huge diamond chandelier hanging above us, and the luxurious rugs that decorated the floors.
However, the further into the house we roamed, I noticed something extremely strange. There was no sign of any portrait of Splash and Spray’s founding family. The house might as well not have belonged to them because there simply was nothing to indicate that this was the Lockhart mansion. The only decorations adorning the walls were a few paintings, a sprig or two of dried flowers, and a wide mirror. The only real picture was that of Orchid Beach back when it was first founded.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to notice this.
“Where are all the pictures?” Mindy piped up. Marlin gave her a piqued look, as though annoyed to be asked questions. But Mindy was not one to be daunted. “I would think that there would be at least one picture of Mrs. Lockhart and her family.”
“The portraits have all been down to be dusted and reframed.” That was the extent of Marlin’s answer, and the look on his face told us he was not to be questioned further.
It didn’t make sense that all the portraits would have been taken down, especially today of all days, when we were visiting, but then again, rich people didn’t make sense a lot of the time. Still, I was highly suspicious that Marlin was hiding something—maybe a big Lockhart family secret. And maybe it was connected to Emmaline Lockhart.
I didn’t have time to think about it for the next couple of hours though. My hands and mind were both occupied with decorating. While most of our team went outside to decorate the garden, I stayed inside with a couple of people, making sure the house looked spooky enough for the mansion murder mystery game. Near the buffet table, we sprinkled fake blood and a severed hand by the punch. By the stairway, we spread cobwebs and filled them with spiders. A skeleton standing in the entranceway to greet guests added a nice touch. Then I started to prepare the designated rooms we would use to play the game.
There were ten cast members, all volunteers from the student council. The first twenty-five guests who wanted to play could join, but after that, the house would be closed off. There might be a second round with a new group of twenty-five, if enough were interested.
I was the hostess, so I wouldn’t take part in the game, instead making sure things ran smoothly. It would also ensure that I could help Adam and Julie search for clues on the whereabouts of Emmaline Lockhart.
The ten cast members were already in on the game and knew the guilty party was Eddie Bates, the ASB president who was playing the part of a happy-go-lucky college fraternity guy who loved to party and had just a little too much to drink, but it would be the guests’ job to find that out. The clues would be delivered throughout the course of the party, and there were two types of clues—clues to be revealed, and clues to be hidden. During the game, guests would mingle and casually share the reveal clues as they talked, while keeping the hidden clues a secret. Someone else might reveal those hidden clues eventually, but the goal for each guest was to keep their clues from incriminating them.
There would be three murders throughout the night, and at the end of the game, the guests would gather around and discuss their theories on who done it before the final big reveal.
It was the first time I’d planned such an elaborate game—it had taken a week to write and perfect the script—and I hoped it would run smoothly and be fun.
On the first floor, I planted a poker under the coffee table in the living room and left a paring knife dirtied with ketchup in the kitchen pantry. Just a few possible murder weapons. Running upstairs to the second floor, I poked my head into a few rooms to see which ones would be fitting crime scenes. I decided on the bathroom and a small library.
The library would be perfect to kill off Professor Lymbert, the nerdy scientist who had just wanted to sit in a quiet place to read. I planted the murder weapon, a heavy, ten-inch thick encyclopedia, and dusted off my hands.
With that final touch, the murder mystery was ready to be solved. I hoped it would be a hit.