The Hostess Stumbles

Sherman was a morning person, even on weekend trips.  On this particular Sunday, he had done his morning exercises, shaved and showered, and then raided his hostess’s kitchen, all before eight a.m. He opened a new gallon of milk, poured himself a full glass, and retired to the dining room. He was just taking a long swallow when two other guests stumbled down the stairs.

“Morning,” yawned Lucas Mint. “How did you sleep?”

“Like a log,” Sherman answered. Their hostess, Alice Darden, was known for her hospitality. The middle-aged widow had made her guests feel perfectly at home in the cozy country house.

“This is a nice change,” said Delia White, the second late riser. “The five of us usually meet just once a month, and then it’s all business.”

The four guests and their hostess were the sole members of an investment club and, although Sherman knew nothing about finances, he enjoyed the camaraderie and the profits.

“I think this is more than a social get-together,” Lucas said, lowering his voice. “Did anyone else notice Alice’s behavior?”

Just then the fourth guest wandered into the dining room, cradling a cup of coffee. “I noticed,” he whispered.

Bernie Grouper, a normally cheerful young man, was looking uncharacteristically worried. “Alice let fly with some cryptic comments at our last meeting.”

“Yes,” Sherman agreed. “She did make a few jokes about shady bookkeeping, but I thought she was just railing against the Federal Reserve.”

Delia picked a piece of lint off her fluffy guest bathrobe. “Well, all of us do a portion of the bookkeeping, except Sherman, of course, who’s hopeless in that area.”

“I wonder if Delia was serious,” said Lucas, “and if she has any proof—or just suspicions.”

Their musings were interrupted by a voice from the kitchen: “Oh, drat!” A few seconds later, Alice walked into the dining room. “Morning, everyone. I’ll be back in a minute.” Then she threw Sherman a decidedly hostile look, grabbed her car keys from a bowl and headed out the front door.

“What was that about?” Delia said with a muffled giggle.

Before anyone could speculate, there came the sound of cracking wood, followed by a crash. The guests raced to the front door and threw it open.

Alice’s house was set on a bluff. Poised over a ravine stood a footbridge connecting the house to the parking area by the road. Half the bridge was no longer there. The center section had collapsed under Alice’s weight, sending her tumbling onto the river rocks below.

“She’s alive,” Lucas said. Lucas and Bernie skidded down the sides of the ravine, while Delia hurried back inside to call for help.

Sherman took his time. He watched his friends trying to help the injured woman, then turned his attention to the edges of wood by the break. Someone had sawn through them, he noticed, ensuring that the bridge would collapse. He didn’t want to suspect one of his friends of attempted murder, but the evidence was unmistakable.

Back in the kitchen, Sherman opened the refrigerator, found what he was looking for—or rather found that what he was looking for was missing—then checked the wastebasket under the counter. “Yes,” Sherman muttered. “We may just have a shady bookkeeper in our midst. And a prospective killer.”

Whom does Sherman suspect?

What was in the wastebasket?

 

SOLUTION

“They say she’ll live,” Delia sighed, as they paced the emer­gency room, feeling useless.

“For now,” Sherman said. “Until someone makes another try.”

Lucas frowned. “Are you saying someone tried to kill Alice?”

“Oh, yes. The bridge was booby-trapped, just waiting for her to cross it.”

Bernie shook his head. “It could have been any one of us crossing that bridge. What makes you think she was the target?”

Delia stopped her pacing. “You know, Sherman. Before she left, Alice looked at you rather accusingly.”

“That confused me, too,” said Sherman, “but I figured it out. It’s first thing in the morning. Our hostess goes into the kitchen, says ‘drat’, then grabs her car keys and says she’ll be back in a minute. What does that say to you?”

Delia pondered. “If it were me, I would be out of milk, or coffee, or something.”

“Exactly. And you’d probably throw a wicked glance at the guest you thought just drank a full gallon of milk.”

“You drank a gallon of milk?”

“No. Someone was in the kitchen after me. He poured the milk down the sink, figuring that Alice would do just what she did, race out to buy another gallon.”

What do you mean, ‘he’?” Bernie asked.

“I mean you,” Sherman said. “Delia and Lucas came down from upstairs. But you showed up with a cup of coffee, meaning you were probably in the kitchen after me. Only you could have thrown the milk away.”