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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/campfires/item_id/1645671-Death-At-Dinner
Rated: 18+ · Campfire Creative · Fiction · Drama · #1645671
As the neighbors gather for a dinner party, one guest goes missing. The sleuthing begins.
[Introduction]
~ Death At Dinner ~

As the residents of Orchard Drive begin to gather for a friendly dinner party, the hostess discovers a shocking scene in her backyard. Someone has been murdered in the quaint, quiet little neighborhood. The question is...whodunit? And are the neighborhood's residents as innocent as they appear?

The Victim
Name: Charlotte Maine
Age: 25
Sex: Female
Family: Younger brother Cameron, 21, of whom she was very protective (since she had been raising him since their parents’ death five years ago).
Allies: Varied on a day-to-day basis, depending on her behavior.
Enemies (in no particular order): Dylan Crane, Michelle Foster, Landon Meyers, Victoria Murphy, Audrey Vance.
Gossip: Seemed to cause trouble for everyone on Orchard Drive, which can be lethal when all your neighbors seem to be very good at holding grudges.

The Neighbors/Suspects
Name: Dylan Crane
Age: 26
Sex: Male
Family: Not married, lives alone.
Occupation: Best-selling author
Allies: Cameron Maine, Victoria Murphy.
Enemies: Charlotte Maine, Landon Meyers.
Gossip: Considered a “hot commodity,” all the ladies of Orchard Drive were bummed when they heard Dylan was rumored to be gaining a “roommate” in the near (and now even nearer) future.
Author: Professor Q

Name: Victoria Murphy
Age: 23
Sex: Female
Family: Newly-married to Christopher, 32, a lawyer; no children.
Occupation: Tennis instructor
Allies: Dylan Crane, Landon Meyers.
Enemies: Charlotte Maine, Michelle Foster.
Gossip: Thought to be a bit flaky and, at times, a bit too perky (especially around the men of the neighborhood). Despite her exuberant demeanor, everyone knows Tori struggles with her frequent visits to see her instituted mother.
Author: Kaya

Name: Michelle Foster
Age: 37
Sex: Female
Family: Loving husband Johnathan (she calls him Johnny), 35, who manages an Italian bistro. Five children: Jack, 15; Christine, 14; Emily, 11; Amanda, 9; and (surprise!) Davis, 7.
Occupation: Musician and mother
Allies: Audrey Vance, Landon Meyers.
Enemies: Charlotte Maine, Victoria Murphy.
Gossip: Has been rumored to be caving in under the pressure of raising five kids, while Johnny is constantly away running the restaurant. But is the pressure enough to lead Michelle to…medicinal assistance? Plus, it can’t help that Johnny also attends regular tennis lessons.
Author: Rose Grey

Name: Audrey Vance
Age: 35
Sex: Female
Family: Husband Daniel, 38, an accomplished architect, and their two children: Daniel’s son from his first marriage, Jamieson, 17; and their daughter together, Peyton, 13.
Occupation: Homemaker
Allies: Michelle Foster, Cameron Maine.
Enemies: Charlotte Maine.
Gossip: Found Charlotte Maine’s body in her backyard. Was extremely clear about her dislike of Charlotte’s flirtatious behavior toward Jamieson. Feels a motherly connection with Cameron.
Author: Brr-rooke

Name: Landon Meyers
Age: 37
Sex: Male
Family: His wife, Caroline, 36, an elementary school teacher, has been mysteriously absent for a few weeks. No children.
Occupation: Psychiatrist
Allies: Michelle Foster, Victoria Murphy.
Enemies: Charlotte Maine, Dylan Crane.
Gossip: Had been losing business due to whispers of unethical practices. The question is, who started these rumors? And did Landon know? Plus, neighbors are assuming that Caroline’s absence could be a sign of D-I-V-O-R-C-E. Did she know what Landon was up to, if he was up to anything at all?
Author: JoeStrong

Name: Cameron Maine
Age: 21
Sex: Male
Family: Older sister Charlotte Maine, 25 (Deceased). Not married.
Occupation: Student, waiter at Johnathan Foster’s restaurant.
Allies: Dylan Crane, Audrey Vance.
Enemies: Landon Meyers.
Gossip: Unfortunately, Cameron was caught in the scuffle that took Charlotte’s life. Fortunately, he was only knocked unconscious and was not harmed any further. But he failed to see the murderer’s face. With his sister gone, he now needs someone to turn to.
Author: Aiken4LOTR

The Rules
*Bullet* Select your character carefully because you might just be...the murderer. After you've chosen your character, I will send you any additional background or secret information you will need. I will indicate through email whether you or someone else should reveal this information. You also cannot switch characters because you will already know their possible motive for killing the victim.

*Note* All characters will have a reason or motive to murder Charlotte Maine. Despite this, not all characters will be equally willing or capable of homicide. Or, they may have an alibi, but most likely, it is secret due to it being questionable, taboo, bad, etc. Thus, the question remains, whodunit? This is for you to solve.

Early additions will occur at the (ruined) dinner party. Clues and secrets will be revealed through good, old-fashioned gossiping and interaction between characters. After the guests return to their homes, they will be visited by detectives trying to solve the case. However, the neighbors will soon find that they all have skeletons in their closet. Therefore, they agree to try to solve the case themselves before the police delve too deep.

*Star* Note: Each writer will have a 7 days to post an addition to the story. Please contact me if you will not be able to add, need more time, or would like your turn moved up or down in the addition rotation. And, if you wanted, you could always email me if you become super excited to add and just can't wait anymore...! *Wink*

*Pencil* Current Addition/Round Information
Campfire last modified: 5/24/10
Current turn:
JoeStrong
Addition deadline: midnight, 6/23/10

Update: Sorry for my unannounced absence and thus, the story's brief hiatus. I recently got a new job. Thankfully I've been working quite a bit, so I hadn't been able to come online and update the campfire. My apologies. Now, let the story continue! *Smile*


As Cameron slowly opened his eyes, a flash of pain pulsated in the back of his head. The jolt of sensation caused him to wrench his eyes shut and his body to recoil. When the ache finally began to numb, he became aware of the cold hard dirt beneath him, the brisk evening breeze swirling above, and the flickering street lamp shining from across the street. Groaning, he carefully tried to push himself up off the ground. His body instantly protested against the movement, his limbs too sore from the fall. What the hell happened? Cameron thought to himself as he turned to lie on his back. Carefully, he pressed his palm against the back of his head. Damn. There was blood. He couldn’t remember what happened, but clearly, someone had clocked him one—and with something hard.

All he remembered was sprinting through the woods. Earlier he had left Dylan’s place to head back to his house. He and Charlotte had been invited to a dinner party at the Vances’, so his sister ordered him to take a shower and change into something decent. He had returned home and done as she said. But by the time he finished dressing, Charlotte had already left. Swearing, he locked the door behind him and decided to take a shortcut through the sparse forest across from the Vances’ home. The last thing he saw before colliding with the ground was his sister walking toward the Vances’, still visible under the artificial glow of the street lamp. She had curled her typically frizzy, dyed red hair, wore a pale green cocktail dress matched with a pair of dark purple heels, and had an uncharacteristic smile stretched across her face. Perhaps it was distasteful, but Cameron knows his immediate reaction to seeing Charlotte smile was probably something along the lines of Oh no, what is she up to now? But before he could think anything more, someone stepped up from behind him and, all too easily, knocked out the younger Maine sibling.

Taking a deep breath, Cameron forced himself up despite his body’s persistent pleas to stay put. He was already late, and his head was killing him. It was best to head over to the party. Charlotte would probably scold him for ruining his white dress shirt, but then Mrs. Vance would wash up his wound and feed him. He could deal with that. Sighing, he made his way across the street. But as he was turning the corner, a deafening sound flooded his ear canals and turned the up the dial on his throbbing headache. He began to run toward the noise thrumming against the insides of his head. His eyes scanned the area, only to find Mrs. Vance standing in her backyard screaming at the top of her lungs, a body very clearly lying on the ground at her feet.

Cameron stood on the sidewalk and watched as guests began to file out from the house. His heartbeat began to quicken as he recognized the face of every person that stepped through the Vances’ backdoor. The hot tennis instructor and her husband; the psychiatrist sans his wife; the Vances’ close friends, the Fosters; Mr. Vance; and then finally his best friend, Dylan. Cameron didn’t notice it, but a sweat broke out across his forehead and around his neck as he watched realization and shock reach the expressions of his neighbors’ faces. One face he didn’t see was that of his sister’s. Which meant…

“Charlotte!” Cameron yelled desperately as his body hurtled toward the scene in Mrs. Vance’s backyard. The neighbors’ expressions turned ghostly pale as they saw the younger Maine sibling arrive. Mr. Murphy had pulled out his cell phone to call the police, Mr. Vance and Mr. Foster had grabbed a sheet to cover Charlotte’s body, and the women stared sympathetically as Cameron slowed his pace when he neared his sister’s body.

“He shouldn’t see this,” he heard one of the women say, though at the moment, he couldn’t tell and didn’t care which one.

“Someone needs to take him inside,” another woman agreed.

Suddenly, Cameron felt two strong arms wrap around him. He fought the person’s attempt to pull him away from his sister, but he was too weak. His head hurt, his body was sore from his earlier incident, and his vision was blurred from all the tears. He felt the person firmly hold onto him as he was dragged inside the Vances’ home and away from all the blood.

-----

Cameron sat on the kitchen counter, slumped over and sad. Dylan stood there, letting the younger man lean on his shoulder as he ran a washcloth under the faucet. “Here,” he said after wringing out the extra water. “Sit up for a sec.” Cameron reluctantly did as he was told, and the two sat in silence as Dylan wiped the blood from the back of his friend’s head and neck. When he was done, he ran water over the washcloth to rinse out the blood. Cameron winced at the sight of the red swirling down the drain; it made him sick. Dylan saw this, so he stopped, turned off the water, and threw the washcloth into the trash can. Cameron really didn’t feel like speaking, but his tired eyes met Dylan’s gaze briefly, and the older man knew it was a sign of thanks.

Before anything could be said, Mrs. Vance came into the kitchen. “How’s he holding up?” She asked Dylan, concern evident in her voice.

Dylan hesitated before answering softly, “He still hasn’t told me how he got hurt, or who hurt him.”

“He probably doesn’t know,” she replied thoughtfully. “I just came in here to tell you that we’ve called the police. We don’t know when they’ll arrive, but they might want to speak with him,” she added, nodding her head toward Cameron.

“Yeah, all right,” Dylan responded. “He’s mostly cleaned up now.”

Audrey smiled sympathetically before reaching out and gently placing her hand on Cameron’s shoulder. “Cameron, I know you’re hurting right now,” she began, “but I just wanted to let you know that we’re all here for you. And…well, if you’d like, I think you should stay with us.”

Cameron’s throat felt dry. He hadn’t even thought about his home or where he would stay. It still didn’t feel like Charlotte was really gone. But he knew that if he even tried to step foot in their house, the recognition would come quickly. Nodding his head, Cameron pushed himself off the counter and hugged Mrs. Vance. “Thanks, that would be…I mean, I—” He began, but a sob cut through his words. Though he towered over his kindly neighbor by a good few inches, Cameron had never felt so small. It had only been five years since he and Charlotte had lost their parents, and now he had lost her, too.

Holding back tears of her own, Audrey gently pulled away and turned to face the two young men. “I’m glad that’s settled,” she said. Then straightening out the skirt of her dress, she continued, “But, I also came to tell you that we’ve all gathered in the living room. It’s been suggested that we have a talk before the police arrive. Besides, you look famished, Cameron. I’ll bring you some food while we’re in there.”

“Okay,” Cameron conceded quietly, becoming aware of the neighbors’ heightened whispers nearby, as he and Dylan followed Mrs. Vance into the living room.

-----
~ Round One ~
Setting:
Audrey Vance's Home, Dinner Party
Objective 1: Gossip and gather information to use against your neighbors.
Objective 2: Agree to crack the case amongst yourselves before the police
come knocking and begin to dig into the neighbors' lives.



Now in the living room, Audrey couldn’t help but notice Victoria huddled in the corner with Landon. She was glad she had turned on the CD player so it wasn’t so silent in the room, but at the same time, she wished she could hear exactly what they were whispering. She was happy that Dylan was sticking close to Cameron. She didn’t want him left alone, not now. Within seconds, Michelle appeared at her side and joined her gaze toward Victoria.

“So what’s that little tramp up to over there?”

“Michelle! Shhh…someone will hear you.”

“Well, look at her. She’s just so very proud of her new boobs, isn’t she?”

Audrey shook her head at Michelle’s overly evident jealousy. “I take it Johnny’s still taking lessons?”

“Yes, I couldn’t talk him out of it.” As she spoke, Michelle rolled her eyes then went right back to glaring at Victoria. Audrey looked around the room trying to access everyone’s reactions to the night’s events just as she remembered she’d put some stew on the stove for Cameron.

“Michelle, help me in the kitchen would you?”

Audrey didn’t actually need the help, but Michelle seemed strangely on edge lately, and it seemed like tempting fate leaving her alone with Victoria. She didn’t need any more disasters tonight. It was a common occurrence to be in the kitchen together, so Audrey thought nothing of it when she saw Michelle grab a glass from the cupboard. However, what happened next wasn’t so normal.

“What’s that you just took?”

“Oh, these…just something that Landon gave me to take the edge off.” Michelle slid the pills back in her pocket before Audrey could see the bottle.

“What do you mean…take the edge off? How often…what exactly are they?”

“Nothing to worry about, save your mothering for Cameron. He needs it a lot more than I do. I can handle it, really. I’m just fine.”

“Is this why you’ve been avoiding me lately? You were afraid I’d find out?”

Michelle reached back in the cupboard and handed Audrey a bowl for Cameron’s stew as she tried to change the subject. Moving up closer, she whispered to her best friend as she ladled beef stew into a bowl for Cameron. “So speaking of Cameron, who do you think…you know…did this?”

“Well, I have a couple different ideas actually, but since you asked, I told you what I saw the other night, right?”

“No, I don’t think so. I don’t remember. My mind is a little foggy lately.”

“Yeah, I wonder why that is?” Audrey gave a light laugh as she gave her friend a wide-eyed look.

“This is no time for a lecture, tell me what you saw!”

“Shhhh! Well, you know how Charlotte didn’t like Cam spending all that time over to Dylan’s, right?”

“Yeah, she was always hovering over Cameron. I don’t know why, it’s not like he’s a damn child anymore.”

“Well, the other day while Cam was avoiding her hanging out downstairs playing video games with Jamieson, I saw her stomp over to Dylan’s house like a ten-year-old looking for Cam. And well, she must not have liked whatever Dylan said because I heard her yell 'You stay away from him or else!'”

“Oh reeeeallllly…?” Michelle dragged out the first and last syllable, over-accenting her interest.

Johnny poked his head in just as Michelle was about to say something. “Babe, are you guys going to spend all night in here? The police will be here soon. ”

With that, both ladies followed Johnny back to the living room; Audrey carefully clutching a bowl of stew for Cameron, and Michelle with her hand stuck in her pocket, fingers wrapped tightly around her new best friend.


Dylan Crane couldn't help but think that someone could write a novel about this. Not him, of course, because he wouldn't be caught dead writing one of those murder mystery novels that ended up collecting dust at the local corner store, but the parts were all there. Local enemy found brutally murdered. Enemy's younger brother beaten. Neighbors all collected at nearby party. It was a classic whodunit, even if it was a little cliché for Dylan's purposes. The only thing was...he'd never thought he'd actually have to live one out himself. And he certainly never thought it would be his friend lying on the couch, blood pouring from a cut on his head, his friends and neighbors all gossiping around him.

Well, he had expected that last part. Gossip seemed to be the mainstay of Orchard Drive residents. A sin he had to admit even he committed on more than one occasion. It was simply too much to expect from anyone—especially a writer—to avoid the gossip of a particular neighborhood. Even if that writer wrote almost exclusively in the fantasy/sci-fi genre. After all, characters needed to gossip, right? Or else nothing would seem so human.

His first novel, Angel’s Inferno, had earned him acclaim and more than enough money that he would never need to write again. Unfortunately, the novel had practically demanded a sequel or four, and Sword of Michael had hit the shelves within the year. At twenty-two, Dylan could have retired. But then Gabriel’s Trumpet and Light of God had finished his epic quartet, and Dylan Crane had no longer hope to live in anonymity.

So he had moved to Orchard Drive, hoping to escape the mass hysteria that seemed to follow him wherever he went. There were movie deals—Leonardo di Caprio was desperate to play Lucifer, he’d heard, and someone wanted Sam Worthington for Michael—and comic book versions already in the works. Merchandising was through the roof, and the novels continued to top the bestseller lists throughout the world. And at twenty-six, Dylan Crane was, to quote the Beatles, “more famous than Jesus.” At least as long as he held the world in suspense regarding his next series of books. Which he hadn’t quite thought about just yet.

Everything about this situation seemed wrong to him. Cameron shouldn’t be sitting there, groaning under the ministrations of the local EMT’s, and the cops should not be sitting outside, their blue lights flashing like so many ruinations. The worst part about it was that the murderer was sitting right there in the room.

“So,” Dylan spoke, breaking into the whispers. “We have a decision to make.” He was a tall man, Dylan Crane, and stood at least a head above everyone else in the room. Handsome and rich, he was the ultimate combination of everything a woman wanted; the fact that he wasn’t married only seemed to bring them coming. It was like a scent. Literally, the women of the room seemed to salivate when he stood, though one or two of them were salivating after his demise more than his bedroom skills. Black-haired and green-eyed, he was a veritable Adonis. But he wasn’t interested in any of the women.

Frankly, he wasn’t interested in women at all.

“What decision do you think we have to make?” Landon remarked, voice full of snide derision. Dylan turned his cat eyes to the man, blinked once, and then slid his gaze over to the others in the room. The psychiatrist was just jealous, no doubt, that a man a full decade younger than he was worth millions more. And then there was the time Caroline had thrown herself at Dylan; a huge fan of his work, she’d said, clutching a copy of Sword of Michael to her chest. He’d been twenty-four at the time, flattered, and very much drunk. It had been the last time he’d slept with a woman. The first, too, for that matter.

“We need to decide how we’re going to handle this situation. Not many of us were really good friends with Charlotte, myself included, but the last thing we need is to have the cops swarming over this neighborhood. Cameron doesn’t need this, not after losing his parents.” Dylan twiddled his thumbs, letting the message sink in. “I think we need to solve this thing on our own.”


Victoria spoke up first. “Are you serious?”

“Sure I am,” said Dylan. “Why would I not be? Think about it. Will it help anything if the police start poking around here, questioning everybody, searching everywhere? It won’t help Cameron, and it sure as hell won’t help me, and, frankly, I can’t imagine how it could help any of you!”

A few people around the room indicated, either vocally or through head nodding, that they agreed with this sentiment. In all honesty, Landon agreed with it, too—murder aside, there were definitely a few things about himself that he didn’t want the police to know—but even so, he couldn’t resist asking the one question that he knew would annoy Dylan more than anything:

“What, exactly, is it that you don’t want the police to find out about you, Dylan?”

Dylan glared. “Don’t be a smartass, Landon. That’s not what I meant, and you know it, so don’t you dare try to imply anything.”

Feigning surprise, Landon motioned for him to calm down. “I was just curious…”

“Actually, I think I see his point,” said Michelle. “All of us had…bad relationships with Charlotte, so we’ll all probably be the first ones to be suspected by the police. I don’t want that.”

“You guys DO realize that we’ve already called the cops, right?” interrupted Audrey. Landon glanced out the window; sure enough, two or three squad cars were parked out front. He turned back to face the group.

“Well, either way, Dylan, if you want to pursue this independently, then by all means, I think you should go for it. After all, you’re certainly the most qualified out of any of us to be playing amateur sleuth.”

* * *

At that moment, a police officer walked into the room and explained that they were going to need to get statements from all of the guests. Landon decided to take advantage of the momentary distraction and stepped into the bathroom. Once there, he took out his cell phone and fingered it anxiously for a few minutes. Should he try to call Caroline again?

He pressed the button on speed dial, and listened. He heard ringing.

Pick up the phone, Caroline. Please. I know you’re there. Why won’t you answer me?

Finally, the ringing stopped. Landon held his breath. And then…

"Hello, this is Caroline Myers. I’m sorry I can’t come to the phone right now, but—”

Sighing, Landon hung up. This had happened too many times already for him to get angry now. Maybe I should call the lawyer, he thought. Then he heard someone knocking on the bathroom door, and that was the end of it.

* * *

A few people had gone off with the cops to give their statements, but Michelle was still in the dining room when he got back.

“Did I miss anything important?”

“Not really. I was just about to go check on Cameron.” She paused, looked around, and then, in a quieter voice, added, “I was thinking… he’s very shaken up. Maybe you could give him one of those pills. Just to calm him down, I mean.”

No,” said Landon, quickly and emphatically, “I don’t think that’s a very good idea. He probably wouldn’t accept it from me, anyway…but, if you want to give him one of yours, that’s not my business.”

Michelle nodded. “Thanks. You know, that wasn’t really a bad thing that Dylan suggested. If one of us managed to figure out who killed Charlotte before the police do.”

Landon nodded, “Yeah, I suppose that would be the best thing for everyone. But it’s probably not going to turn out that way. I certainly wouldn’t bet on Dylan being able to figure it all out, no matter how many books he may have written on the subject.”

In spite of herself, Michelle chuckled. Landon couldn’t help smiling himself.


“It wouldn’t be easy but if someone could…it would save everyone the headache of a police investigation.”

Landon nodded; Michelle fingered the bottle in the pocket of her trousers, knowing that was one headache to be avoided. Glancing at Landon, she both thanked and hated him for giving them to her. When had her life come down to coping through a bottle? It felt like forever since her music was enough to melt away the stresses of the day. Having to care for her five children practically alone, with Johnny constantly away managing Gabriella’s, Michelle barely had a moment to relax – never mind time to pick up her violin. Then there were Johnny’s tennis lessons…her hand tightened on the bottle at the thought of Victoria.

Michelle was startled from her thoughts by a kiss on the cheek, momentarily thinking it had been Landon – as strange as that would have been – before she heard Johnny.

“Everyone’s a little jumpy tonight.” He put an arm around her, “You okay, babe?”

“I will be. It’s Cameron I’m worried about. I was about to check on him.”

Johnny nodded and ushered her toward the living room where Cameron must have gone to after speaking to the police. He had been one of the first they had wanted to speak to; after all, he had been attacked himself.

Michelle unattached herself from Johnny’s hold and went to the couch where Cameron sat. The poor thing looked exhausted, not that he shouldn’t be. This whole night was a…mess, to put it mildly. Michelle sat down next to Cam and put a hand on his shoulder. He looked over at her and Michelle’s heart sank. He looked so…lost.

“How’s your head?” Michelle wasn’t sure what to say to him. Asking how he was ‘holding up’ seemed pointless – it was written on his face. “Can I get you anything?”

“No, thank you.”

Michelle nodded and glanced over at Johnny, noticing that Landon had entered the room followed by Victoria. Michelle suppressed her feelings about the woman, this was not the time. Though, her hand went to the bottle in her pocket. Michelle shivered at the realization – how much did she need those pills?


Groaning, Cameron lifted his head from his pillow and peered into the darkness. Craning his neck, he glanced at the time on the large, iron clock hanging stylishly above the fireplace in the Vances’ living room. To his dismay, the hour hand was just past the Roman numeral IV. The Vances’ dinner party was scheduled to begin at 8p.m. Seeing how the police and the neighbors had left by midnight (Michelle and Dylan lingered for a bit longer than the others), that meant Cameron had been trying to fall asleep for at least the past three hours. Not that anyone could blame him. Mrs. Vance had even offered him some sleeping pills to help him make it through the night. But Cameron couldn’t turn his brain off. His head was clouded by images of the Vances’ soiled back yard, the constant flash of cameras being clicked away by gloved hands, and of the horrifyingly intense color of red. But more than that, the last member of the Maine family could not stop thinking about the numbers on the clock.

When the police had arrived, they attempted to be consoling as they ushered him to the couch and began to question him as gently as possible. He had just finished being examined by the EMTs, and there were just too many people and too many voices in the room. He was beginning to feel the weight of the evening hit him, resulting in a panicky claustrophobia. He just wanted to get out. The officer assigned to speak with him seemed to understand this, as she simply led him out the front door so he could get some fresh air and she could get some answers. But truthfully, Cameron didn’t know if he had any. As he told Officer Daley, Charlotte caused her fair share of mischief, that was certain, but he really did not know much about her affairs. His sister and the rest of the neighbors seemed to keep their issues hidden from him. He had been grateful at the time, but now he wished he knew the truth.

As they stood out in the empty street, Cameron turned his eyes away from the harsh glare of the red and blue sirens surrounding the area. Officer Daley then began her questioning by telling Cameron there was really only one thing she needed to know from him: “What did you do before you came to the Vances for their party?” Officer Daley was aware that Cameron had been knocked out in the nearby woods, presumably right before the mur…crime was committed. Therefore, she said it was imperative that he tell her what he did before that. And so, to the best of his ability, he did.

-----

Two hours before the party…

“Do you think it means what I think it means?” Cameron inquired hesitantly as he read over his friend’s shoulder. They were in Dylan’s kitchen, where the novelist was seated at his dining table examining the object in question. The best-selling author had been diligently typing away when Cam let himself in through the back door. Setting his laptop aside, he waited for Cam to start venting about work or his lack of a girlfriend (and typically school would be a part of the mix, but thankfully, college students start summers early). To his surprise, however, Cam wanted to discuss something they usually didn’t talk about: his sister, Charlotte. Fretfully, the college student had pulled a sleek silver device from his jeans pocket and handed it to Dylan.

“Must you hover?” Dylan retorted, aware of his younger friend’s restless presence, as he read over the text a few times. Though, it was entirely unnecessary. It was short and sloppy, yes, but it was strikingly clear. “I hate to say it, but yes, I think it means exactly what you think it means.”

“Damn,” Cameron huffed as he pulled out the chair next to Dylan and fell onto it. “I thought she would be done with this.” He grabbed the phone from Dylan and re-read the text, hoping some alternative, more reasonable meaning would jump out at him.

u btr sty wy frm j or ull b sry!


The message was lucid: Charlotte was told to stay away. But did it indicate what he thought it did? Was she told to keep away from a...lover? Or, at least, someone whom she had her eye on?

“You say you don’t recognize the number?” Dylan asked quietly, breaking the momentary silence that hung in the air.

“No, but it has to be Mrs. Foster or Mrs. Vance,” Cam replied. “Well, I doubt Mrs. Vance texts, so that just leaves…”

“Cam, I know you’re close to the Vances, but let’s face it. The ‘j’ in this message is probably referring to Jamieson. Didn’t you say Mrs. Vance came over once and threatened your sister for pursuing him?” Dylan reasoned, though he was already prepared for the onslaught. He understood Cam’s attachment to Audrey, but clearly, it was clouding his friend’s judgment. Course, he couldn’t really blame him for that…

“Yeah well, it could also be Mr. Foster—Johnny—or, their son, Jack,” Cam rebutted quickly as he shoved the phone back in his pocket. “This might be horrible,” he continued softly, nervously running a hand through his messy brown hair, “but I sort of hope it’s about Mr. Foster. I mean, Char says she comes to work to see me, but I think she comes to see him. I mean, I hope—”

Surprised, Dylan looked up at his friend in concern. “—why do you say that?” He interrupted.

“Because, Jamie and Jack, they’re so…young,” Cam answered honestly. “Too young. You don’t really think Char could be interested in them, do you? I mean, I hang out with Jamieson, and I work with Jack. It’s just…weird.”

“Well, it would be rather hypocritical of her,” Dylan mumbled, mostly to himself. Then more clearly, he added, “Cam, I honestly don’t know. Have you asked her about this?”

“What? No! She can’t know that I took her phone,” he quickly replied. “Just…nevermind. I’ll slip it back into her purse when I get home.”

“Hey Cam, can I ask you something?” His friend nodded warily at the conceding change of subject. “Is this what you were trying to tell me before? You know, when you called me late sometime last week? You sounded worried.”

Cam bit down on his lip, contemplating how to respond. The truth was…“No. I didn’t know about this then,” he answered, carefully considering his words, as the weight of this new information added to what he was already dealing with. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Dylan because he did; the man was his best friend. It was just that this information had already seemed to cause trouble for his sister; he didn’t want it to affect Dylan, too.

Leaning in closer, Dylan carefully inquired, “Is it bad? Do you need help? Cam, you know you can tell me, if you do.”

“I had been at Landon Meyers’ office that day. It was about a week ago,” Cam confessed. “It was before I called you later that night.”

“Wait, why were you at Landon’s office?” Dylan asked, suddenly very troubled. “Were you there for a session?” Dylan wouldn’t fault his friend for wanting to seek counseling since the loss of his parents, but it did hurt to think that Cam maybe wasn’t getting enough from his friendship with him or with Audrey, for that matter.

“Charlotte has been away a lot lately,” he began to explain. “I don’t know what she’s gotten herself into, but I can tell it’s…big, or important, maybe dangerous, I have no idea.”

“And that’s why you went to see Landon?”

“Well, I was never actually scheduled to see him, and I didn’t end up meeting with anyone.” Cam suddenly stood up. “Dylan, you have to know that I could be wrong…I mean, I wasn’t sure what I saw, but I…I told her anyway.”

“You told Charlotte…” Dylan paraphrased, letting the little information Cam had given him sink in. Then realization hit him, considering the woman’s meddling nature. “You saw something at Landon’s office, told Charlotte, and now you think…she may be in trouble?”

“No, I think that Landon is in trouble because Charlotte knows,” Cam clarified.

“Trouble as in…Landon could lose his psychiatry license?” Dylan asked, impressed by his reasoning but frustrated by this rather cryptic conversation.

“Yes, and if Landon feels his job is threatened...” Cam began. Dylan understood where this was going, but before he could reply, the phone in Cam’s pocket began to vibrate. “Crap, she’s trying to find her phone,” he said as he read their home number flashing across the small screen. “I should probably head back. Char wants me to get cleaned up, so I don’t embarrass her tonight. Besides, I smell like marinara,” he joked lightly, referring to the scent he accumulated from working a shift at Johnny Foster’s restaurant, Gabriella’s. His lips curved into a slight smile, which was quickly reciprocated by his friend. “See you tonight?”

“Yeah, see ya,” Dylan replied as he watched his friend leaving, shouting out a last-minute, “Good luck writing!”

-----

“Well…?” Officer Daley inquired a bit harshly. Hey, understanding the reason for the young man’s sorrow and grief didn’t make it any less frustrating during an interrogation.

“I got up at 8 a.m. and was at work by nine for inventory and cleaning,” Cam began to answer plainly, giving the officer the basics. “I didn’t get out until five. I stopped by my house to change, then I went over to my friend Dylan’s for a bit. We talked, and I left by seven to get ready for the party.”

“You’re friends with the author?” Cam nodded. She continued, “Hmm…all right, what time would you say you left for the party?”

“I didn’t leave until 8 p.m. I remember because I knew I was already late.”

“That’s interesting,” Officer Daley said, pen scraping as she jotted down notes on some paper.

“It is? Why?”

“Because, we’ve asked your neighbors some preliminary questions,” she began, “and it turns out, all of you were approximately 20 minutes late.”

“And what does that mean?” Cam asked, getting worried at what the officer was implying.

“Ms. Maine’s body was found at 8:25 p.m. earlier this evening. It means from the time you were knocked out, let’s say around 8:05 p.m., everyone that arrived on scene as an innocent bystander actually had 15 minutes that we haven’t accounted for.”

“But 15 minutes? That’s not enough time to—”

“Look, I know you don’t want to suspect the people you know, who live next door, as being responsible,” Officer Daley began, “but in this line of work, a lot can happen in 15 minutes, especially if it was pre-meditated.”

Cameron couldn’t believe what he was hearing. And now, as he lay in bed, he continued replaying that conversation with the officer in his mind. He tried to consider how it would be possible for someone decked out in party wear to knock him out and murder his sister within a time frame as small as 15 minutes. That, and he realized just how much information he didn’t give Officer Daley. He didn’t tell her about the text message or about what he saw at the psychiatric office. Clearly, he had valuable information, but there were still some pieces missing. One of his neighbors killed his sister, and he was going to figure out why.

-----

~ Round Two ~
Setting:
Around the neighborhood
Objective 1: Spill the beans! Spread gossip and keep the blame on others.
Objective 2: If possible, keep the focus off yourself. Gather information to deduce the motive and identity of the murderer.
Objective 3: If the police come a’knockin, be careful (and calculating).



As Audrey spoke to the police, she couldn’t help but let her mind wander, which made it slightly difficult to answer the officers questions. She tried to recall who she saw or heard first, but every time she concentrated she saw Charlotte’s body and then Cameron’s horrified face in her mind. He’d been through so much; her heart broke at the thought of how he would handle the latest tragedy.

“Mrs. Vance?”

“I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“I asked if you knew of anyone that would have reason to hurt Miss Maine?”

Thoughts raced through Audrey’s head and before she could think about the words, they’d fallen out of her mouth with almost a chuckle. “It would be a shorter list to say who didn’t.” She immediately regretted her statement.

“So she wasn’t very popular; now we’re getting somewhere. Tell me more.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean … well, I don’t know much really.”

“Well, tell me what you do know.”

Audrey had just stuck her foot in her mouth clear up to the ankle. Now she had to think of something to say quickly to satisfy the officer without incriminating any of her friends or herself. "Well, I heard a rumor that she’d gotten in a fight with Mr. Meyers and that was around the same time his wife disappeared. No one knows where Mrs. Meyers is but many can't help but wonder if Charlotte had something to do with her disappearance.”

The words hung in the air, and she hoped the intrigue surrounding the statement might interest the officer enough to make him want to dump her to talk to Landon quicker. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

“What do you know about Mr. Meyers?”

“Well, he’s a Psychiatrist and has lived here for several years. I really don’t know him that well actually. His wife is a school teacher, elementary school. We met through school. She taught my daughter Peyton a few years back.”

“And they have no children, the Meyers?”

“No sir, If I’m not mistaken, Mrs. Landon miscarried many years ago and they never conceived again. For awhile I wondered if they might divorce. That’s a very difficult thing to go through for a couple, you know.”

“I’ve heard it’s very difficult. Did Mrs. Meyer ever discuss her marital problems with you?”

“Oh heavens no, I don’t know either of them that well. Just all things I’ve heard from my friend Mi-“

Audrey stopped, suddenly aware she was about to set up her friend Michelle for questioning.

“Your friend who, Mrs. Vance?”

Thinking quickly, she admitted. “I’m sorry, I thought I heard Cameron calling me. I was about to say Mr. Crane, Mr. Dylan Crane. Actually, it might have been Mrs. Murphy. She’s friends with him also. Gee, my memory is just not what it used to be I’m afraid.”

“That’s fine. Thank you Mrs. Vance. You’ve been very helpful. That’s all the questions I have for now.”

Her feigned ignorance seemed to appease the detective, at least for the moment. She couldn't help but wonder why she was protecting Michelle though. Did she really think that she could have something to do with Charlotte's demise?


Dylan had a migraine. It was full blown at this point, too, caused no doubt by the incessant questioning from the police. Or maybe it was just the continued presence of Landon in his life, something he wouldn't have chosen for all the book deals in the world. The psychiatrist's continued insinuations about Dylan's ability to play sleuth because of his obvious writing prowess were downright annoying. Everyone knew Dylan's distaste for murder mysteries and, frankly, joking about such things at a time like this was just rude and downright crass. Cameron had been injured and, no matter how obnoxious his sister had been (or even how much Dylan didn't mind her prolonged absence from life), this was not a time to joke around about Dylan's writing. Frankly, putting his jealous insecurities on the high burner at a time like this...

"Mr. Crane?" Dylan jumped, startled out of his reverie by the police officer standing in front of him.

"What?" Clearing his head, Dylan grinned. "Sorry, how may I help you?"

"I thought I might ask a few questions. Were you acquainted at all with the victim? Miss Maine, I mean, not young Cameron." The officer seemed tired. No doubt he was, having been called out to a murder scene in the middle of the night. Orchard Drive was not exactly the kind of place that you expected a gruesome crime of this nature to occur.

"I was. And, while I can't lie and say that we were friendly, I can't think of any reason why anyone around here would want to hurt her. Hurting her only hurts Cameron and he is one of my closest friends." Dylan sighed, running a hand through his dark hair, and looked around the room. Audrey was staring at him, a slightly apologetic look in her eye. Ah, so it's you that sent the blue dog after me. "But..."

"Yes, Mr. Crane?" The officer didn't look up from his notepad. Dylan didn't expect him to. It was something he'd noticed over the years; local law enforcement seemed to have an almost studied nonchalance about them. No doubt the man had picked up on every slight tick or nervous laugh since arriving at the scene almost two hours ago now. Somewhere, Dylan knew, was a man with a camera.

A number of his friends did choose to write those horrid whodunits, after all. Especially Erik.

"Charlotte was not popular. She had a tendency to alienate people. There's not a person in this room that didn't have some sort of beef with her. I mean, I hear she knew some pretty incriminating things about Mr. Meyers' psychiatry practice, but that's just hearsay. Nothing tangible, just neighborhood gossip. And she did do a lot of flirting with Audrey's eldest, Jamieson, which Mrs. Vance was not a fan of. But there is nothing...I mean, I cannot think of any reason for anyone to want to murder her!"

The officer nodded, making affirming noises. "And why is that?"

"Because, officer, as much as we all hated Charlotte, there is only one person in this neighborhood who has issues with Cameron. All of us love him." Dylan looked over at Landon, annoyed as ever with the man and eager to foist this blasted officer onto the psychiatrist. "Except Landon."


“Mr. Landon Meyers?”

“Yes?” Turning to face his addresser, Landon was not at all surprised to see a policeman, standing at the ready with a notepad and pencil.

“Sergeant Henrikson, of the homicide department. I’d like to just ask you a few questions, if that’s possible…?”

“Of course, sergeant.” Landon laid his empty glass on the nearest table and followed Henrikson into the next room. The man looked rather weary, which was a good sign—he probably wanted to get this over with quickly just as much as Landon did.

“So, what can I do for you?”

“Well, Mr. Meyers, I wonder if you could tell me where you were just before the murder, and if you saw or heard anything that might have been… out of place?”

Landon nodded. “Well… I was here, in the house; after all, the party had already started. I remember hearing Audr—hearing Mrs. Vance scream, and I came outside with the others and saw the body, and… well, after that, as you can probably imagine, we were all caught up in a sort of a whirlwind, so to speak. It’s very hard to be sure what exactly happened after that; I was thinking that I should go inside and call 9-1-1, and then Cameron burst into the yard, and of course he had to be calmed down… it was simply awful.”

“Yes, I can certainly understand that.” The weary look in Henrikson’s face had been replaced by an expression of quiet sympathy. “I realize this must be hard for you, Mr. Meyers, and I’m sorry to trouble you like this.”

Landon was almost touched. Almost. “Don’t worry about it, sergeant. I’m happy to help in any way I can. ”

The officer nodded, then paused momentarily to jot down a few more notes. “Now, I understand that you were not on very good terms with the deceased.”

Ah, so that was his game—playing the nice cop, trying to gain Landon’s trust, and then moving in for the kill, asking the big questions, searching for any sign of guilt or any slip-up. Of course, Landon had seen this coming as well.

Briefly, he wondered which of the other guests had named him as the potential killer. It was probably Dylan, but maybe it had been Cameron himself. Hell, it may even have been Audrey, come to that.

Well, no matter. He might as well be honest.

“Well, yes, that is true. But I’m fairly certain that if you ask around, you’ll find that it wasn’t just me. Charlotte Maine was not an easy person to like.”

“In what way?”

“Well, she was a shameless gossip, for one thing—very intrusive. Also, although this wasn’t a factor in my case, she seemed to be very… outgoing, for lack of a better word, sexually. I’ve heard a lot of complaints from other people in the neighborhood about awkward situations that she had given rise to through some flirtation.”

“Are you saying she was… promiscuous?”

Landon chuckled. It might not have been wise to do that in front of the police, but he couldn't help himself. “Those are your words, sergeant, not mine.”

“I see.” Henrikson made another note. “Do you have any idea with whom she might have been... involved?"

"Nobody in particular, although I imagine the list must have been quite high."

"And how would you characterize your relationship with the brother of the deceased?”

Ah. He was going to have to be careful with this one. "It's... complicated."

"Really? Because I've been told that you didn't get along with him either."

"Like I said... it's complicated."

"Care to elaborate?"

Landon sighed. So much for getting this over with as quickly as possible. "Not particularly, no."

Henrikson looked up from his notepad and raised an eyebrow. "Beg your pardon?"

"Listen, officer, it's a touchy subject all around. I've been more than cooperative so far, and I'd appreciate--"

At that moment his cellphone started going off. When he saw who the caller was, Landon grimaced, but inwardly, he was relieved. "Excuse me, Sergeant Henrikson, I have to take this. It's a professional emergency." And he walked away without another word, looking for a quiet corner in which to hopefully talk one of his most manic-depressive patients out of suicide.


Michelle stood over her violin case and sighed. Lately, her music hadn’t helped at all; everything was just still so messed up that nothing other than getting the whole Charlotte murder case closed would fix it. If that would even clean up the mess; because when would finding out if one of her neighbors was capable of such a thing really do any good? Besides, playing her music had faded from the help category long before Charlotte was gone. Charlotte herself had been part of that problem…of her problems. Then there were the other things. Like Veronica and Johnny’s tennis lessons.

Grabbing her purse, she walked from the room, ready to get the kids once again wherever they needed to be. Michelle sighed again; she knew that Johnny had a lot of work at Gabriella’s, but it isn’t like taking care of five kids is easy work either.

Michelle loved her kids and her husband, but sometimes…She looked at her hand when she got to the SUV and jumped when it wasn’t her keys but the pill bottle Landon had given her that she saw. Michelle gritted her teeth and threw the bottle at the garage wall where it just bounced back and rolled to her feet. Michelle stared at it briefly before she bent to pick it up, this was strange.

Landon was her friend. She knew he’d never give her anything he thought she couldn’t handle, but what if he was wrong? What if these pills were messing her up? Had he done the same for others? If he had, did they feel as helpless as she did about having to cope this way?

Fishing out her keys and placing the bottle back in her purse, Michelle couldn’t help but wonder if Caroline’s absence had anything to do with Landon’s practice, or rather, the way he chose to run it. Then again, could Charlotte have played a part as well? Her nose had always been where it shouldn’t be.

*****

Michelle parked the SUV in the back of Gabrella’s since Jack had to be there for work. She just sat there looking at the back of the restaurant. How many times had she dropped off Jack to run into Charlotte?

Michelle walked into Gabriella’s to see Charlotte and wanted to scream. It didn’t really matter that she always ordered something whenever she came in, it was simply the fact that she did come: often. More often than herself, and she had to drop Jack off nearly every day. It irritated her that even in this very public setting it appeared that Charlotte got to see more of Johnny than she did…

“You okay Mom?”

Michelle turned to her eldest son, “Of course.” She pried her hands from the steering wheel with a smile.

Jack didn’t look convinced, but he said nothing as they got out and went into the building. As she entered Michelle tried to push thoughts of Charlotte from her mind, even when the woman was dead she still intruded on her life!


After crashing at the Vances’ for a few days while avoiding his home and fielding off questions by the police, Cameron was feeling overwhelmed. He needed to get away from the house where it all happened, but he couldn’t return to his own home. He had to go somewhere to escape.

Taking a deep breath, Cameron slipped inside the building as quickly and quietly as possible. In the near distance, he could hear the clamoring of pots and pans, the hissing of steaming plates, and the beeping of oven timers blending into a strangely comforting cacophony of noises. Beyond that, a melody of casual conversation and jovial laughter floated towards him. Unlike the earlier sounds that were safe and pleasant in their mere triviality and harmlessness, this tune was both painfully familiar and distant to him. He was used to the sounds of teenagers on their first date, couples celebrating an anniversary, or friends happily piling into a booth. The problem was that they contrasted so sharply with the incessant sound that echoed on a loop inside his head: screams. Though he had not heard his sister’s final cry, Mrs. Vance’s scream had rang out all too clearly, followed by the shocked responses of his neighbors.

Just then, a different sound flooded his consciousness, followed by the gentlest of touches. “Cameron? What are you doing here? Are you okay?” Like himself, Jamieson Vance was a waiter at Johnny Fosters’ Italian bistro (also where Jack Foster served as a busboy). Jamieson was a somewhat short, skinny kid that had the same freckled peach complexion of his father, as well as the same deep russet locks of his mother—albeit a bit more untamed and unpolished. Cam could remember being that way; though, he had dealt with the opposite problem. He had a shock of white-blond hair paired with pale skin, and he had been too tall and lanky. In fact, Charlotte used to constantly tease her younger brother’s particularly clumsy build. Fortunately, sophomore year of high school had been kind to Cam. Due to a desire to make the basketball team, he gained some muscle and filled out. Hours spent practicing outside finally tanned his fair complexion, and his hair naturally darkened. Four years younger and eager for a male role model, Jamieson Vance had been one of the witnesses to Cam’s adolescent changes. Unfortunately, these were changes that Mr. and Mrs. Maine would miss.

After his parents passed, Cam became closer to several of his neighbors. Sure he had known them before; but with his parents around, the socializing was up to them. As the kid, it was never his responsibility to actually get to know the people who lived around them. His mother went shopping and had lunch dates with the neighborhood wives; his dad watched football and played weekly poker with the men. In her younger years, Charlotte had been a heartbreaker and a troublemaker; but she was a teenager, this was expected of her. After graduation, she moved away and only returned on holidays. But when Cam was 16, a car crash claimed the lives of Thomas and Susan Maine. Charlotte was 20 years old, a sophomore in college who had the world ahead of her. But Charlotte’s world grew smaller that day when she came home to care for her younger brother.

Despite his sister’s presence, however, Cam was not able to find true comfort or care in his home. Instead, his neighbors stepped in. Mrs. Vance had clearly become like a mother to him, and Dylan was his best friend; but Mrs. Vance’s son was the one who kept Cam in line because Jamieson watched his every move. He did not do this to catch him with his hand in the cookie jar, so to speak; Jamieson watched Cameron because for whatever inane reason concocted by a lonely teenager, he admired him. Cam was sure to keep this in mind whenever he spoke to the Vance boy.

“Hey Jamie,” he said softly, noticing the teen’s hand carefully placed on his arm. “I can’t say that I’m okay, but I am better than before,” he answered honestly, the way Jamieson deserved to be answered. “And I’m here because I need to do something. I can’t sit around just thinking about…everything.”

“I’m really sorry,” Jamieson replied sincerely. “My mom told me what happened. Look, I get why you came here—” he knew he shouldn’t be, but Cam was surprised by how perceptive the boy was. “I get it. This place is normal, safe. Besides, it’s away from the neighborhood and has plenty of strangers who don’t know what you’re going through.”

“Yeah—” Cam began, only to be cut off by his younger friend.

“But, it’s also the place where Charlotte visited you almost every day,” the younger waiter explained. “She’d always sit at the center table, and you’d always serve her. Your house was your place with your parents, but this was your place with her.”

Cam hadn’t meant to say it, but the thought had been troubling him lately. After borrowing Charlotte’s phone and reading the threatening text message, the idea clawed at the edges of his mind in an effort to spill forth from his lips. “I wouldn’t be too sure of that,” he muttered under his breath, tinted by an air of sadness.

“Wait, what do you mean?” Jamieson asked curiously. Turning, he quickly scanned the back hallway they stood in to make sure no one was nearby. “You don’t think Charlotte came to see you?”

Sighing, Cam reluctantly answered, “At first, sure, she came to see me. But lately, it just felt like she came here looking to see someone else.” Suddenly, he felt an urge to show his friend the text message he had earlier revealed to Dylan. But as much as he wanted the message’s mysterious j to refer to Johnny Foster, there was a chance it referred to someone else. What if it was from Jamieson’s mother? No, Cam couldn’t show him. “Nevermind, don’t worry about it.”

“Hey, it was good to see you, but if Mr. Foster catches you back here, he won’t be happy,” Jamieson said, changing the topic. However, he would remember his older friend’s concerns—maybe his mother would know how to better console Cameron. “He wants you to wait a while before coming back to work. So, maybe you should go home.”

“Home isn’t exactly where I want to be,” Cam stated simply. “But you’re right. I should go. Sorry about this, Jamie. I hope I haven’t upset you.”

“No, don’t worry about it,” he responded kindly. Mrs. Vance had taught her son well. “Why don’t you go somewhere else that feels safe…that feels right.”

Cam smiled as a certain place came to mind. “Yeah, that sounds good. I’ll, uh, see you later, right?”

“Definitely,” Jamieson said, allowing a grin to grace his freckled features. “You’re my only true competition in Mario Kart; my dad really sucks.” To his pleasant surprise, Cam actually smiled. For the first time since the evening of the dinner party gone wrong, the youngest and only member of the Maine family felt something other than sadness and anger. He felt like someone cared about him, like he was not alone.

- - - - -

Dylan Crane was an accomplished and well-respected, best-selling author. As such, when he didn’t fill his days with writing or required public appearances, he was either taking calls from or meeting directly with his editor, manager, publisher, etc. His daily routine, however, changed drastically when news of a tragic death dominated the local evening news five years ago. Dylan did not know the Maine family well. He had met the parents, shied away from the daughter’s adoring glances, and witnessed the son’s lackluster attempts to master basketball at a young age. But for some reason, Dylan had felt compelled to step outside one day and re-introduce himself to a 16-year-old boy that had just endured terrible heartbreak. He had even offered to help the youngest Maine sibling enhance his basketball skills. Little did he know that his small, admittedly uncharacteristic act of kindness had changed more than just the teenager’s life that day. It had, in fact, formed a surprising but lasting bond of friendship.

Over the years, Dylan had become accustomed to Cameron’s frequent visits. He had even informed his friend of where the spare key was hidden; as a result, he often came home to find Cam watching his cable TV and practically inhaling the food in his fridge. Today, however, was considerably different. He walked into his study to find the young man hunched over a folder sitting on his desk.

“What is this?” Cam asked, his voice low, rough and confused. Cam rifled through the papers, all of which contained notes concerning two primary individuals: Charlotte Maine and Landon Meyers. His breathing was heavy and a bit frantic as he continued to speak. “You wrote down everything I told you that night—why? That was between me and you, it wasn’t something for you to put into writing as, well, evidence or something. Is that what this is, Dylan? Is it? You didn’t share any of this with the police, did you?”

Dylan carefully walked up to the desk and collected the file of papers. He then walked over and sat on the nearby couch. Silently, he motioned for his friend to join him. “No Cam, but please, let me explain.”

~ Round Two Cont'd~
Setting: Days after the dinner party; around the neighborhood (e.g.Gabriella's, the neighborhood homes, places of work).
Objective 1: Use the information you already know about allies and enemies to focus the blame on others.
Objective 2: Take information you've received from others and spread it to more people.
Objective 3: Try to connect the dots--zone in on your primary suspect!

Audrey tried to relax on her deck, sitting back in what used to be her favorite chair. Overlooking her beautiful, manicured backyard used to give her a feeling of accomplishment. Now, it just brought back horribly vivid memories.

She felt a pang of guilt at being glad that Charlotte was actually gone. She loved Cameron but his sister needed to learn some self-control. Leaning back with her eyes closed she remembered confronting Charlotte about the attention she paid toward Jamieson. She hated the thought of her looking at him, much less touching him. She wondered how many others felt the same way. She knew of the one argument she witnessed with Charlotte screaming at Dylan but how many others hated her?

The phone ringing startled her. Looking down, she realized she had crumpled the almost empty can of soda in her hand in anger. She jumped up heading inside to grab the phone before it stopped.

“Hello.”

“Oh, hi Michelle ... slow down – what’s wrong?”

“No … I … wait – where is Johnny now?”

“Listen, I know you hate Victoria but I’m sure he’s just at the restaurant."

“Calm down. What makes you even think he’s with her?“

“That’s not a good enough reason. I see her every week with Daniel; she just does it for attention. Flirting and sleeping around are two different things.”

“Yes, I know but it’s not like she’s had an easy life. You heard about her father committing suicide right?”

“Oh, don’t say that. You wouldn’t either. She’s not that bad. That was mean.”

“Yes, that’s when her mother was admitted to the hospital. What? No, of course not! I’ve never asked her about it. It’s none of my business for one thing and it would no doubt upset…”

“I know you could care less but we’re talking about me here. If you’re so curious, you ask her!”

“Well, I guess she could be hiding the reasons but would you want to talk about it if your father committed suicide and your mother was institutionalized?”

“Michelle … Hey, just stop. You’re talking a mile a minute and I can barely understand you.”

“Exactly how many of those pills have you had today?”

“Hello? Hello?”

Audrey set the phone down on the counter and leaned on her elbows running her fingers through her hair. A deep sigh rolled through her as her mind raced.

What has Landon done to her?

Emotions got the best of her as tears welled up in Audrey’s eyes.

“No wonder his wife left. What a bastard.”

“What was that honey?”

Audrey looked up and realized her husband had walked in. She wrapped her arms around him burying her face in his shoulder.

Muffled and barely audible Audrey let everything out.

“It’s Michelle … she couldn’t find Johnny and thinks he is having an affair with Victoria.”

“Why would she think that? I just saw Johnny at the restaurant when I stopped by to drop off Jamieson’s coat.”

“It’s the pills. “ The tears fell harder as she let it all out.

“You know, Johnny does talk about Victoria from time to time. I never really thought about it until now. He was telling me not too long ago about an argument she got into with Charlotte. You don’t think … “

Audrey didn’t answer. She just tightened her arms around Daniel and closed her eyes. She didn’t want to think about it.

Cameron's face was red, the tips of his ears even darkening to a deep pink, as he struggled to regain control over his breathing. "Well then, what do you have a file with all of this--this evidence if not to take it to the cops?"

Dylan ran a hand through his hair and sat on the edge of the desk, taking--prying--the folder from his young friend's hand and putting it into a drawer. He didn't lock it, or even hide the fact that he had put it away somewhere that Cam could access it whenever he wanted. "I'm...admittedly, rather embarrassingly, playing the amateur sleuth. Just what our resident psychiatrist suggested, yes?"

"Sleuth?" Cam gulped in an another attempt to gain control over his breathing, leaning back into Dylan's desk chair and staring up with eyes swimming with confusion. "What do you mean sleuth?"

"I'm gathering evidence, just like you said. But only for myself. I don't want the cops involved any more than they need to be. This neighborhood doesn't need that kind of press, much less myself." Dylan sighed. "I know that sounds selfish, but Cam...I moved to this neighborhood so people wouldn't always be able to find me. Pretty much everyone kept that secret. Even your sister kept it for me, and we were not the best of friends. For that reason alone, for that one boon she granted me, I feel like I owe it to her to find her killer without cops swarming everywhere."

Standing, Dylan began pacing throughout the room, hands clasped behind his back. "You have to admit, Cam, that a full police investigation wouldn't make your sister look good. I didn't like her, which you well know, but her bad name is your bad name...and you're my friend, kid. I mean, this shit is bad enough as it is. It doesn't need to be made worse by the cops."

"So what's that got to do with all of this stuff I told you?"

"I'm trying to find your sister's killer myself, Cam." Dylan turned and looked at his young friend. "I'm gathering information on everyone that could have killed her."

"But then why do you only have a file on Landon?" Cam raised an eyebrow.

"Because, for now, he's my biggest suspect. And I thought I'd start there."

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