A Murder of Crows

The basic story for the museum mystery event “A Murder of Crows” was laid out here: Wow! What a Story! So there’s no reason for me to tell the tale again except to say a stolen peace pipe was supposed to be cleansed to prevent an eventual World War; instead, the Crows ended up dead, the pipe disappeared, and fourteen years later, World War I began.

Major Players:

Mrs. Lottie Gardner: When Circuit Judge Ewell suggested that Lottie build a hotel, she hesitated, not wanting to pay high interest rates. But Judge Ewell promised to find her low interest rates, she built the hotel, and lived happily ever after. Until the Murder of the Crows, that is.

Abigail Crow: When Abigail woke up dead, she found that her husband had disappeared and now she’s wandering the Gardner House looking for him so they can be together once again.

Circuit Judge Ewell: He has traveled extensively through the region and stayed at the Gardner House many times, but because he was instrumental in getting the hotel built, he wouldn’t have done anything to jeopardize his favorite hotel. Or would he?

Sheriff The sheriff is used to cowboy hijinks, crimes of passion (both anger and love), and drunken brawls, so when the Crows are so senselessly murdered, he is at a loss, though he is determined to get his man. Or woman.

Bright Raven: Bright Raven could be a suspect, but since she was planning on cleansing the sacred pipe in the interests of world peace, how likely is it that she would murder innocent people?

Major Suspects:

Jennie Wren: Jennie is a chambermaid who wasn’t assigned to clean Room Number 5, so the sheriff is mystified to find her fingerprint in the room. Jennie claims the woman who was supposed to clean the room said it was haunted even before Abigail was killed, so Jennie changed places with her. Is this the truth or did Jennie do the dastardly deed? But as far as anyone knows, Jennie has never been out of town.

Nell Starling: A reporter from Pueblo, Nell is in town to write about the races and any other events of interest, but could that simply be an excuse to come to town and commit the murders? But there is no indication she has ever been in town before, and no record of her staying at the Gardner House.

Selina Heron: A gypsy fortuneteller and self-proclaimed seer, Selina promises to find out who killed the Crows. She says the cards will tell her or perhaps Abigail herself will come to her in a vision. But is this just a lie to keep people from looking at her more closely? After all, as a gypsy, she does travel all over. Yet she denies ever staying at the hotel because she can always camp down by the river with the rest of her people.

Professor Crane: A well-known medicine man and purveyor of snake oil, the professor has been in town and stayed at the Gardner House many times. He had plenty of opportunity to meet with the mysterious traveler who had passed on the sacred pipe, and plenty of opportunities to hide the pipe in the hotel. He didn’t show up in town until after the Crows checked in, so perhaps he tried to reclaim the pipe anyway. He denies being the killer, but can he be trusted to tell the truth? After all, he is, at heart, a snake oil salesman.

Thomas Finch: A Sherlock Holmes wannabe, Thomas is in town detecting whatever he can in an effort to make a name for himself as a master detective. He thought there would be plenty of nefarious behavior at the races, though he didn’t manage to detect any, so the murders seemed a lucky break for him. Unless, of course, he did the deed to give himself a high-profile case.

Clarence Hawk: Clarence appears to be a simple beet digger, though he has traveled some—at least 25 miles to the nearest town—and he has enough book learning and native intelligence to be able to know what he had (if in fact, he did have the sacred pipe before it was hidden). But would he kill? He’s not telling.

Karen Kingfisher: This candy shop lady is more than she seems. She’s an avid student of tribal lore, so if a sacred pipe had come her way, she would have done anything to keep it in her possession, maybe even kill. But as far as anyone knows, she’s never been out of town since she stays close in case of a candy emergency.

Minor Suspects:

Although the sheriff has pinpointed a few major suspects, he’s the first one to admit anyone could have committed the crime, even the most unlikely folks, such as the preacher, the school marm, and even his own deputy, so he intends to interview as many people as he can. Including you.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times

Wow! What a Story!

Thanks to suggestions from blog readers and offline friends, I finally wrote the mystery for the museum. I still have to list the characters and their movements and motivations on the fateful night, but for the most part, it’s finished. It sounds like a synopsis for a truly interesting novel. This is what I have so far:

History

It is late July, 1899, on the cusp of a new century. William McKinley is president of the United States of America. The United States, until now uninterested in expansion, has begun to assert itself and has officially become a world power. The first automobiles appear on the roads and the first traffic fatality will occur in a few weeks. Electricity is beginning to light the country.

Locally, horse racing is an important event, and people come from all over Colorado and Kansas to race and watch and bet. Gypsies camp down by the river. The Gardner House hotel is celebrating its seventh anniversary. Cowboys, as always, let off steam and try to shoot out the oil-lit street lights in front of the hotel.

Regionally, there is unrest among the Cheyenne, both the Northern Cheyenne and the Southern Cheyenne. The Medicine Hat Bundle, which included a ceremonial pipe and a buffalo horn, was the most sacred possession of the Northern Cheyenne, but in the 1870s, after a tribal dispute with the Keeper of the Sacred Medicine Hat Bundle, the pipe disappeared.

And oh, yes — a flock of crows is called a “murder of crows.”

This Story

Despite the rapid growth of southeast Colorado and the diverse people living there, it’s become a fairly safe place to live.

Until the murder of the Crows.

The Crows were drummers (traveling salespeople). John sold men’s haberdashery, and Abigail sold women’s unmentionables. When they arrived at the Gardener House, they found only one room still available because of all the activity in town. Instead of staying in room #3, which they considered lucky, the Crows reluctantly checked into room #5. Things were fine the first night, but on the second night, Abigail wakes to hear someone in the room. She starts to call out, but a figure descends on her like an immense black bird with wings outstretched. She feels terrible pain, then nothing. When she wakes again, she is dead.

The intruder is desperate. Two weeks ago, the intruder met a fellow traveler who was dying. The traveler gave the intruder a bundle containing an old peace pipe, and requested that it be delivered to a Cheyenne woman called Bright Raven in southeastern Colorado no later than midnight on July 28th or the world would burn in a terrible world war. The intruder promised, but during the journey, the intruder sensed the power of the pipe and figured there was money to be made from such an artifact. Because of the ill fortune that followed the intruder after accepting the pipe, the intruder stashed the bundle under the floorboards in the closet of room #5 in the Gardner House where the intruder was staying, until better plans could be made. But the intruder could find no one who would pay big money for an unlucky pipe of dubious origin. Ill fortune continued to follow the intruder. In desperation, remembering the July 28 deadline, the intruder, disguised in a voluminous black cape, returned to the hotel shortly before midnight on that date to retrieve the item.

It was bad luck room #5 was occupied. Bad luck that the woman occupant awoke. Bad luck that when the intruder swooped down on the woman, the knife the intruder had been using to pry up the floorboard in hand, the woman died. Bad luck that the husband awoke. Bad luck that the cowboys chose that very moment to shoot out the street lights. Bad luck that the intruder had to escape without the artifact.

During the investigation that followed the murders, the artifact was retrieved but in the confusion, the sacred pipe disappeared again. Bright Raven never received the pipe, never got to perform the cleansing ritual she’d needed to do to remove the taint.

Exactly fifteen years later, on July 28, 1914, a shot rang out.

And World War I began.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times

A Tale of Two Mysteries

I’m supposed to be figuring out a mystery for a “Nite at the Museum” event at the local historical museum, but instead, the bare bones of my next book are poking at me. Not that I know what will happen in that story any more than the I know what will happen at the museum, but I am getting the feel for the story — a woman (Pat!) buys a house years after the death of her husband in an effort to build a new life for herself. As she digs around her yard, cleaning things up, she finds remnants of a previous owner’s life. She gets curious about the woman, and tries to find out what happened to her, but everyone she talks to has a different story. Some think she went to a nursing home in a nearby town. Some think she went to live with a relative in another state. As Pat continues to dig and learns more about the woman’s life, she discovers that the woman was much like her — widowed, alone, elderly, no children, few financial resources, and no one to really care what happened to her. That’s when Pat ramps up her search for woman — because whatever fate the woman met, so might the hapless Pat.

I have no idea if there is a book in these musings or if they are only in my mind to keep me from thinking about what I am supposed to be thinking of — the museum murder.

We have a basic plot for the murder, where the murdered couple (The Crows) were put in a hotel room at the Gardner House that someone else wanted. That someone else had stolen an artifact (or been given it to dispose of it), and hid it in the hotel until the heat was off and now person came back to get the artifact. Why it was necessary to get the pipe that particular night, I haven’t yet figured out, so if you have any ideas, I’d be glad to hear them. Apparently, Mrs. Crow wakes up and sees the thief. The thief swoops down on her, and when she awakes again, she finds herself dead.

What fascinates me about writing is that once a scenario presents itself, research almost always helps bring the story to life. (This has been called the gift of the library gods.)

In this case, research brought me to the Medicine Hat Bundle, which included a ceremonial pipe and a buffalo horn, and was the most sacred possession of the Northern Cheyenne. After a dispute with the Keeper of the Sacred Medicine Hat Bundle, the pipe disappeared until 1908 when a woman named Hattie Gott acquired it from a Southern Cheyenne called Burnt All Over. Hattie Gott donated the artifact to the Oklahoma Historical Society in 1911. The significance of the pipe was finally discovered around 1997, and from what I can tell, it’s been returned to the Northern Cheyenne.

So my dilemma for The Murder of Crows is how the pipe wound up here (Southern Cheyenne territory) at the turn of the twentieth century, eight years before it ended up in Oklahoma, why someone hid it in the Gardner House, and why reclaiming it was so urgent as to necessitate killing the occupants of the room where it was hidden.

I suppose it could have been stolen again, either on purpose (knowing what it was), or accidentally (not knowing what it was). I also need to have some idea of what the thief hoped to gain by owning the pipe. Maybe holding it for ransom if the person knew what it was? Or desperate to get rid of it and the bad luck that followed it if the person didn’t know what it was? Although the pipe was supposed to be good luck for the Northern Cheyenne, it brought bad luck to other folk. It’s probable that the pipe was placed in the room previously, and only now has the person found a chance to return to the area to retrieve it.

So confusing!

No wonder it’s easier to think about a novel I might or might not write in some eventless future rather than thinking about a mystery event I have to create in the very near future.

Like before the end of the month. Eek!

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times

Murder Mystery Proposal

I submitted a proposal to the museum today for the murder mystery they’ve planned for the end of October.

The first mystery I created was based on a Clue game, so all the character’s names were colors. Various comments and suggestions from people gave me the idea of bird names. The victims could be a couple surnamed “Crow,” and the event could be called “A Murder of Crows.” Not everyone knows that a group of crows is not a flock but a murder, but that shouldn’t make any difference to the game.

Crows have nothing in particular to do with this area, though this part of Colorado is a good site for birding. (Except when it comes to me. Out of the 400 species that have been sighted, I’ve seen only a dozen or so.) Because of a lack any historical connection to crows, my proposal was just a first draft to get things going. Still, the museum director seemed to like the idea.

One of the characters could be a woman reporter, whose name could be Brenda Starling or more probably, Nellie Starling since Brenda Starr wasn’t created until the forties and Nellie Bly was active during the historical time of this event.

I’d also like one of the victims to be a ghost, roaming around looking for either her husband, their killer, or both.

And there’s a local medicine man who would make a good huckster.

My job is done for a while. The next steps need to come from other people, such as signing up people to play various characters and finding out noteworthy local events from that time. And I need help figuring out the visual clues, though I have a hunch that will be left to me.

I did have visual clues the first time, such as a photo of a man with a saloon girl he claimed never to have met, but since the museum is rather large for such a small town, I think clues like that got lost. This time, I figure we can put a silhouette of a crow by any clue, photographic or otherwise, to give people a hint.

I’d like to use fingerprints somehow. It’s possible I could just put a photo of a fingerprint by the crime scene and then simply tell people who it belonged to, though the person would deny committing the crime. Another possibility is to give all the characters a photo of a fingerprint they can hand out so people can check who the fingerprint belongs to, but the logistics of doing that seem a bit too complicated.

What makes this sort of game hard to create is that it has to be enigmatic yet logical, as do all mysteries. It also needs to be convoluted yet easy enough to solve so that even kids can play.

Until the museum folks gather some of the information I need, I don’t really have to do anything else to put it all together. Except think, of course. It always helps me to play out various scenarios in my head before I lay them out on a page.

A big thank you to everyone who gave me suggestions for this project. It certainly makes it easy for me to come up with a proposal when all I have to do is collate other people’s ideas!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Another Mystery at the Museum

A couple of years ago, I devised a murder game for the local historical museum based on characters who once lived in the area. Last year, due to The Bob, there wasn’t any such event, but here we are, slowly getting back into activities, and so once again, I need to create a murder.

It’s a good thing I keep my documents because until I looked at what I wrote for that first Murder Mystery at the Museum, I’d forgotten I’d based it on the game of Clue, using colors for the characters names — Mrs. Peacock, Colonel Mustard, etc. I also used some historical figures for the victim and various backstory folk, which I will probably do again because, after all, this is a fundraiser for a historical museum.

This new mystery will take place in the 1890s, about fifteen historical years later than the first. The date isn’t arbitrary. The murder will take place in a hotel that was built in 1890, more because of the research I did on the woman who owned the hotel than for any other reason.

Because of the setting of the mystery, the characters can be almost anyone because so many people traveled through the area and stayed at the hotel, such as a circuit judge, traveling salespeople, preachers, cowboys. Any of the various employees, such as chambermaids and waitresses as well as the proprietor herself could also play a part.

Then there is the possibility of other popular characters of the day, such as a lady reporter or a kid detective. Or perennially popular characters such as a medicine man or even a ghost.

Lots of possibilities! As always, the challenge is figuring how to pepper clues around the museum to help people solve the mystery. I didn’t do that well with solid clues the first time, relying more on the written clues in the handout and on the characters who played the part rather than clues for people to find.

Luckily, I still have a couple of months to figure all this out.

If you have any suggestions, I’ll be glad to hear them!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Social Calendar

It seems odd to have a social calendar. For many years, the only social activities I participated in were my dance classes, and from week to week, those classes were generally at the same time and on the same days. If I went to lunch with anyone, it was usually after class. Any other activity was easy to remember because it was such a rarity.

But now? After only seven months, I’m so entrenched in the community that without my calendar, I’d be lost. There’s always something coming up, such as a movie (Downton Abbey) and lunch with friends this Saturday, a meeting at the museum tomorrow to set out clues for the Murder at the Museum Night that will take place next week, porcelain painting classes, and a special note to remind me about Blogging for Peace next month.

It bewilders me, all of this. But then, much of my life bewilders me.

Was I really that woman? That woman who watched a man slowly die, who wanted the suffering to end, yet whose love was so ineffectual she couldn’t make him well or take away a single moment of his pain? That woman so connected to another human being she felt broken — and lost — years after his death? That woman who screamed the pain of her loss to the winds?

And am I really this woman? A homeowner? A part of a community? A person with a social calendar?

Apparently so, because there I was and now here I am.

It’s possible life will always bewilder me. I might never know the truth of any of it — life, death, purpose . . . me.

But that’s the beauty of a having social calendar. At least on those particular days, there are no questions or bewilderment. I know what I am supposed to do, where I am supposed to be. I even know who I am supposed to be — a pleasant companion, a kind friend, a generous volunteer.

The rest of the time? Well, if it’s not on the calendar, perhaps it’s not important.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.