Jack MacGuffin’s body wasn’t found until the morning after the snowstorm.
The evening after MacGuffin was found, as detective-turned-journalist Victor Piotrowicz and his husband Angelo sat down to compare notes, Victor couldn’t help thinking about the story he’d just turned in about MacGuffin’s businesses. He was a multi-billionaire, a CEO and real estate mogul, and… not a good person, in all honesty. There was no shortage of people who would have motive to kill him.
Victor sighed, grabbing the now ice-cold coffee he’d salvaged from the kitchen probably two hours ago and downed half of it in one go. The White Peaks Ski Lodge and Resort had backup generators, which were enough to keep most of the lights and the building’s heat on for the two or three days it would take for the downed power lines– which had also managed to take out both phone lines and all of the roads up to the resort– to be fixed, but the coffee machine was significantly less important, so its operation had fallen by the wayside. Victor grimaced slightly at the taste– the coffee here hadn’t been great, even warm– and settled down a little more firmly onto the sofa in the front waiting room of the resort, next to Angelo and in front of a coffee table with several notebooks, a camera, and a few other scattered pieces of paper on it.
There were six people total, besides Victor and Angelo, at the resort at the time of Jack’s death, and every single one of them had a motive, because it was Jack MacGuffin, so of course they did. Three were employees: one desk worker, Robert Thompson, and two cleaners, Carol Underwood and Tania Kundi. Kundi used to work for one of Jack’s condo buildings in the city, and Thompson’s partner still worked at BigMart, where they were apparently treated like crap– fairly typical for Jack’s companies. There was also Wilbur Dunn, a failing real estate mogul and former business partner of MacGuffin’s who was on vacation for the weekend, Inez Koch, who was Jack’s eighty-something-year-old personal assistant and verbal punching bag, and finally, Diandra Sharpe.
Sharpe and Underwood were interesting; Sharpe lived on the Blood Tribe reservation on the border between North Dakota and Canada, and a few years back, BigMart’s land development department had made a most likely illegal purchase on the border of, and almost definitely overlapping with, the tribe’s territory. Underwood had worked on the construction project there until the accident that’d collapsed the entire thing. She’d been injured in it, losing most of her left leg, but she’d still gotten lucky; dozens of people had died.
Victor sighed, putting down Angelo’s notebook– no one had wanted to talk to a former cop, not really, even if they’d appreciated his authority in the beginning, and his advice in keeping them safe while they figured out what had happened, so he’d had Angelo do the interviews– and picked up his own, where he’d been taking down what background he could on the case. Along with the phones, the Internet in the resort had gone down with the storm, so he’d had to rely on his memory more than he was used to during research, but he’d had plenty to work with in this case.
Jack MacGuffin had been… in all honesty, he’d been a piece of shit. His stores, factories, and construction sites alike were known for terrible working conditions and mass quantities of injuries, and even in his personal life, he’d been known to cheat on and abuse every woman he’d dated. Victor didn’t like to think of himself as a particularly vindictive man, but there was a part of him that wondered if whoever had done this might have done the world a favour.
“Whatcha thinking about?” Angelo asked, nudging Victor’s shoulder with his own.
Victor sighed. “This guy was an asshole. I can’t even feel bad that he’s dead.”
“Yeah, I know. He sucked,” Angelo said.
“Wow. If even you’re saying it, it’s gotta be true,” Victor said with a laugh, leaning up against Angelo’s shoulder.
“Hey, I’m not that sunshiney.”
“Yes, you are.”
Angelo rolled his eyes. “Did you manage to nail down a vague timeline during the interviews?”
“Wilbur went to visit Jack at around 8 pm last night, and left before 9:30, which is the last time Inez saw Jack alive. She slept next door. Around 3 am, she heard a bunch of thumping, but when she looked in the hall, she didn’t see anyone, though apparently Jack liked to drink on vacation, so she wasn’t too worried about it. Then, at 9 am, Tania unlocked the door to Jack’s room and found him there, dead. So the murder had to have happened some time between 9:30 pm and 9 am, and there was a thumping sound heard at 3,” Victor surmised. “Can you grab those crime scene photos you took?”
“Not with you laying on me like that,” Angelo said, shrugging his shoulder again to jostle Victor.
“Too bad, I’m not moving,” Victor said. “What’ve you got?”
Angelo frowned down at him for a moment, then reached out for the camera, stretching out and almost pushing Victor off again before he managed to grab it with a little “ha!” and settled back into place. “Right. I tried to get what I could. It was… a mess, honestly.”
“You’re telling me,” Victor said, shuddering slightly as Angelo pulled the photos up. “I know you’re a lot more used to photographing living stuff, so thanks for doing this for me.”
Angelo snorted. “Yeah. Right. You owe me one, babe.”
Victor pressed a kiss to his cheek, then looked at the camera’s screen.
The first shot was of the bedroom of MacGuffin’s suite. It was a large, ornate room, with an almost comically-oversized bed in the middle of it. There was blood absolutely everywhere, spattered across the sheets and streaking all the way up to the ceiling, and the feathers from the pillows and comforter and foam from the mattress were scattered around the entire room. The next shot was a close-up of Jack’s body. He had been a fairly small, older man, though now he looked almost more like a piece of paper that someone had taken a hole-puncher to. His eyes were closed, and his hands were limp by his sides.
The next few shots were of the rest of the bedroom, showing the nightstand with an empty bottle of bourbon and accompanying glass on it, the bloodstained blankets and drapings around the bed, the discarded kitchen knife left behind on the floor, covered with dried blood up to the handle, the dark fireplace and defunct dumbwaiter, the frankly obscenely-nice carpet, which hadn’t had any noticeable footprints left in it, and the door, which had been locked from the inside when Tania knocked on it.
“God,” Victor muttered, sighing. “That can’t be a fun way to go.”
“I mean, neither is getting crushed to death in a construction accident, or worked for sixty hours straight in a BigMart warehouse,” Angelo pointed out.
“Oh, no, I’m not on this guy’s side,” said Victor quickly. “He got what was coming to him. But still, I feel like there was probably a less painful way to go about it.”
“That probably indicates a crime of passion, then, right?” Angelo asked. “Not that I have any clue, but it seems like whoever did this had to have left a lot of evidence.”
“I mean, it’s not any evidence we can do much with,” Victor pointed out. “There weren’t even any noticeable fingerprints on the knife or anything. Although, to be fair, I’m not a detective anymore, I don’t have access to a lab even if we could use it.”
“I know, babe,” Angelo said, kissing Victor’s head again. “Right. What’s the next step?”
Victor leaned into Angelo for a moment longer before pushing himself upright. “We should probably go talk to everyone. I know we already suggested the whole buddy-system thing, but given that we don’t know who did this or why I’m not comfortable with leaving anyone alone just yet. Still, I dunno how they’ll feel about keeping that going overnight, and it’s probably better to get the argument over with sooner rather than later.”
“Good point,” said Angelo, standing up as well and following Victor over to the dining room door.
When they entered, four people were still sitting around the table. There was a tall, narrow, dark-skinned woman with sleek hair and an even sleeker pantsuit, Diandra Sharpe, a much, much older woman with curly hair and kind eyes, Inez Koch, another middle-aged woman in a hijab and a cleaner’s uniform, Tania Kundri, and a man in the resort’s desk uniform with long black box braids tied up in a bun on top of his head, Robert Thompson.
“Oh, you’re back!” said Diandra. “Glad to see you’re still alive. What have you found so far?”
“Not as much as we’d like,” said Victor, scanning the eaves of the room with a frown. “Where are… hold on… Wilbur Dunn and Carol Underwood?”
“There was some laundry that needed to be retrieved from downstairs,” said Tania. “Carol went down to take care of it, and Wilbur went with her, for the buddy system.”
“A fifty-nine year old real estate broker volunteered to help with laundry?” Angelo asked.
“Scared people are a lot more willing to do whatever they think they need to do to survive,” said Diandra.
“Besides, I doubt he’s actually helping,” Robert muttered under his breath, and Victor couldn’t help but agree.
“Right,” he said. “We should probably work out sleeping arrangements for the night. I don’t think it’s a good idea for everyone to go back to their own bedrooms by themselves, just because we still don’t know who is responsible or how they did it, and so it’ll be safer if people sleep in groups of two or more. Is everyone okay with that?”
“That does make sense,” said Inez in a reedy voice. “Do you boys have any leads?”
Victor sighed. “Not at the moment, unfortunately. There are… some clues, definitely, but no real sure sign of where they lead.”
“We should probably go find Wilbur and Carol,” Angelo said. “Mrs. Kundri or Mr. Thompson, would either of you be willing to lead us down to the laundry room?”
“I can,” Tania said, standing up.
The three of them left the room in the same silence it had been in when Victor and Angelo had entered.
“Have any of you said a single word to each other since we left?” Angelo asked quietly.
“Mrs. Koch and Ms. Sharpe were talking for a little while,” Tania whispered. “And Carol, Robert, and I talked to each other, too. Oh! And Mr. Dunn and Mrs. Koch gave each other condolences, in between some of Mr. Dunn’s attempts to make phone calls.”
“Mrs. Koch gave Dunn condolences?” Victor asked.
“That’s what it looked like,” said Tania. “I was trying not to eavesdrop, so I’m not sure.”
“Huh,” Victor muttered.
“Are you doing okay?” Angelo asked Tania. “I know that the scene was… not pretty.”
Tania shuddered. “I’m… okay. I will be okay. Robert has also promised that I will be able to take the next several days off, and I do have PTO saved up, so I should be able to afford it.”
“That’s good, at least,” Angelo said, as Tania opened the door to the laundry room. It was surprisingly small for the size of the resort, with just three fairly standard-looking household washers and three dryers in it. Carol Underwood, a blonde woman in her late 30’s with a prosthetic leg and forearm crutches, and Wilbur Dunn, a middle-aged, pasty, balding man in a black suit, were standing in front of an open washer, each with a bundle of fabric in their arms.
“Oh, Tania, good, you’re here,” Carol drawled. “Did you put this load in? Guest clothes aren’t supposed to mix with resort sheets. It’s okay, I know you’re new, I was just wonderin’.”
“No, I didn’t start any laundry last night or today,” said Tania. “I assumed that you had.”
“Huh,” Carol said. “Weird. I guess I’ll ask Rob about it, then.”
“Can we leave, now?” Wilbur Dunn asked. “I need to put my clothes away.”
“Mr. Dunn, do you know how the laundry started last night?” asked Victor.
“Of course not,” Wilbur said, rolling his eyes. “I have to put my stuff away. If you’re going to interrogate me again, you can do it while we walk. Capice?”
Victor glanced over at Angelo, who nodded and turned back to Tania and Carol.
“Alright, if you insist,” Victor said to Wilbur, who harrumphed and headed out.
“Good. You seem like a clever fellow, Peter-whizz,” Wilbur said.
“Piot-ro-vich,” Victor corrected. “Easy mistake to make.”
“Right, that’s what I said. Anyway,” Wilbur said. “What did you say you do again?”
“I’m a journalist, nowadays.”
“A journalist, eh? You ever worked for the Post?”
“No, I’m freelance.”
“Freelance!” Wilbur led the way past the kitchen door and up one of the smaller back stairwells, the ones meant for staff. “Good on you for not taking a job at the Post.”
“I try not to work for papers with a clear editorial spin,” Victor said, as diplomatically as he could. “Not that I don’t have my own spin, of course, but it’s important to try to stay objective, especially if you’re regularly reporting on people in power.”
“People like Jack, huh?” Wilbur asked. “Makes sense. I’m sure you know he owns the Post. You know, kid, I might be able to offer you some good work once we get out of here. I’ve always got room on my team for someone who does well in a crisis.”
Victor held back a laugh, as Wilbur opened the door to his suite and left the laundry he’d gathered lying on the couch, next to what looked like a small mountain of medicine. “I’ll keep that in mind, if I’m ever looking for a career change.”
“You’d be good in real estate,” Wilbur said. “You’ve got the personality for it.”
“I really don’t think I do,” Victor said.
“Eh. We’ll have to agree to disagree, then.” He clapped Victor on the shoulder, then turned back towards the stairs. “Now, I assume we should be getting back to the others.”
“I think so, yes,” Victor said with a nod.
By the time they got back downstairs, Carol and Tania had scrounged up something for dinner. Only half of the room’s lights were on, to conserve power, and there was only one table set. A couple of conversations had started up– Angelo was talking to Diandra, and Robert, Carol, and Tania seemed to be arguing quietly. Victor settled into place next to Angelo, smiling to himself at the sight of his husband’s excitement, and Wilbur took the empty spot at the head of the table.
Dinner was largely uneventful, and afterwards, the whole group moved as one into the resort’s lounge area. Victor couldn’t help but notice that everyone was starting to get a bit more agitated. Night was approaching.
“Mr. Piotrowicz?” Inez said eventually, and both Victor and Angelo looked up at her. “Do you have any updates on your investigation?”
“I… have a couple of leads,” Victor said slowly. “But nothing concrete.”
“Well, if you’ve got leads, I think we deserve to know about ‘em,” Carol said. “We’re in danger just as much as you are.”
“The good news is, I don’t think anyone is in immediate danger, despite what it looked like this morning,” Victor said. “That said, I don’t think we should abandon the buddy system just yet– actually, I was meaning to bring that up. We probably shouldn’t risk sleeping alone in separate rooms tonight.”
“I agree!” Wilbur said loudly. “Clever of you to suggest that. It’ll be safer if we stay together.”
“Yes,” Victor said. “Those are the exact words I used earlier today. Thank you, Mr. Dunn. Do any of you have any particular objections to that?”
There were six shaken heads.
“Are you sure you can’t share any of your leads with us?” Inez asked.
“I do think we deserve to know who among us might be a murderer,” Diandra said.
Victor sighed. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“You know, the boy’s probably right,” Wilbur said. “It’ll be safer to keep us in the dark.”
“Well, of course someone like you would say that,” Diandra sniped.
“Now just what is that supposed to mean?” Wilbur demanded.
“Wait, wait, hold on a second,” Victor began, leaning forwards.
“It means that you lied to the press and the people whose livelihoods you were destroying for years, alongside MacGuffin, when you invaded my home,” Diandra said.
“I haven’t worked with Jack for years,” Wilbur said. “I have my own company now.”
“You worked with him long enough to buy territory that didn’t belong to you,” said Diandra. “It was before the accident, Carol.”
“Hold on, you mean the construction accident on the North Dakota project?” Carol asked. “You had a hand in that?”
“That’s a strong phrase,” Wilbur said. He was beginning to sweat, now. Victor stared at him, his eyes narrowing, his mind racing.
“Strong phrase, my ass! You ruined my life!” Carol shouted.
“I was not affiliated with MacGuffin for a full year before the accident!” Wilbur protested. “I was a bit too busy with my divorce to mess around with him!”
And with that, the last pieces clicked into place.
“It was you,” Victor breathed, and the room fell silent.
“What?” Wilbur asked.
Victor stood up slowly, barely seeing him, as the picture formed in front of him. “That interview I did with MacGuffin’s ex-wife… one of the people he cheated on her with was his business partner’s wife. At the time, that was you. And then, when you found out, he kicked you out of the company, didn’t he?”
Wilbur stared at Victor for a long moment, then harrumphed loudly. “Yeah, I’ll admit it. He was a monster. He really was. I think we can all agree on that.”
“We can,” Victor said. “And then, after he kicked you out of the company, you tried to found your own. But MacGuffin was still more successful than you, wasn’t he?”
“I mean, yes, he was,” Wilbur said. “But that was because of the work that I had done. The North Dakota deal– he was making millions, and I did all of the work, took all the risk–”
“You were the one responsible for that deal?” Diandra demanded.
“Well–” Wilbur said.
“Of course,” Victor said. “He was using your work to build his own wealth. Pretty typical of him, wasn’t it? And you were angry, and jealous, and so you tried to sabotage him.”
“The accident,” Carol breathed. “It wasn’t– that was you, too, wasn’t it?”
“Now– now hang on,” Wilbur said.
“And, of course, that backfired, too,” said Victor. “MacGuffin got the insurance payout, won the lawsuits, and abandoned the project. And you got angrier and angrier, didn’t you?”
“He deserved it!” Wilbur burst out, lurching to his feet. “He deserved every single thing I did to him last night, and he deserved to lose everything in North Dakota!”
“He was asleep when you killed him, wasn’t he?” Victor asked, remembering the bourbon bottle, the medicines. “You know about his habit of drinking heavily on trips, you’d travelled with him before. So, under the guise of a reconciliation, you were able to slip him enough of something or other that he wouldn’t wake up to scream when you went back.”
“How did he…?” Angelo began.
“The dumbwaiter,” Victor said. “It’s not functional anymore, but the shaft is still there. You knew the back staircases down to the level with the kitchen and laundry room. Late at night, you took a back stairwell downstairs, stole a knife from the kitchen, snuck up the dumbwaiter– that would have been the thumping you heard, Mrs. Koch– and killed Jack in his bed. Then you took the dumbwaiter back downstairs, and started up a load of laundry, with your blood-covered clothes in it.”
Wilbur stared at Victor, his chest heaving, for a long, long moment. Then he straightened up, folding his arms. “That’s a lot of assumptions you’re making, boy. Not very smart for a journalist.”
“But I’m right, aren’t I?” Victor said. “And when the police arrive, they’ll agree.”
“Maybe. But the cops won’t touch me, not if I pay them enough,” said Wilbur.
Victor laughed. “You really think that your failing company can fight back against the entirety of the MacGuffin estate? Please.”
Wilbur’s posture didn’t change, but Victor could see a flicker of nervousness in his eyes. “W-well… if I pay you enough, they’ll never find out. Right?”
“I don’t take bribes,” said Victor. “There’s a reason I quit the force.”
“Mr. Thompson, Ms. Underwood, Mrs. Kundri, could you get Mr. Dunn to a secure location to await the police’s arrival?” Angelo said, standing up as well and taking Victor’s hand. “Remember, it will likely still be a few days, so make sure he’s… secure.”
“You can’t do this!” Wilbur bellowed, as everyone else in the room swarmed him and started carting him off, deeper into the hotel. “I’ll sue you! I’ll sue you all into oblivion! This is libel! I’ll sue you all!”
“It’s not libel if it’s true,” Victor said in a sing-song voice, leaning his head against Angelo’s shoulder once more.
Angelo pressed yet another kiss to the top of his head, then sighed. “Do you think he’ll actually face any time for any of that?”
“I don’t know,” Victor said. “But I wasn’t lying about publishing this whole thing. Maybe it’ll stick, for once.”
Angelo snorted. “Good luck, babe. But also… good job.” He grinned, then. “I’ve gotta admit, you going all Sherlock Holmes at the end there was pretty hot.”
Victor looked up at his husband, then leaned up to kiss him properly.
Being snowed in was seeming like a little less of a problem, now.