“So…” said Nora. “What’s the actual problem?”
Mr. Greenfield glanced around surreptitiously and then said in a hushed voice, “We don’t know.”
“But something is going on here!” added Mrs. Brackish.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Tillynaught. “Something very vile and underhanded. We know there’s something going on, but only you, Nora, with your special extrasensory perception, can get into that Barbara King’s mind and find out what it is!”
“Full house!” said Mrs. Balanafeel. “That’s twenty-five points!”
Nora thought a moment. These old people seemed to think there was a problem, but so far they had given her absolutely no clue whatsoever to the type of problem. What was she supposed to do? Just wait until she noticed something fishy? She’d been there over three weeks and nothing untoward had reared its head yet.
“Do you have any, like, you know, clues?”
Mrs. Balanafeel, who was trying to pass the dice to Mr. Greenfield sitting at her right, suddenly appeared to become aware that there was a conversation happening. Her eyes cleared and the black curls of her wig bobbed as she raised her face to Nora’s. “Clue? Of course we have Clue! Right over there on the shelf! Hold on, I’ll get it.” She scooped up the Yahtzee paraphernalia and started trying to fit it into the Yahtzee box.
“No clues per se,” said Mr. Greenfield as Mrs. Balanafeel wrestled the Yahtzee pencil from his hand. “Just… a few strange occurrences, you might say.”
“Yes, that’s it. Strange occurrences,” added Mrs. Brackish.
“Why won’t this score pad go in here?” wondered Mrs. Balanafeel.
“Can you give me an example?” Nora asked.
“I’m sure it was right here before, but now it doesn’t fit.” Mrs. Balanafeel pushed with all her meager might at the score pad down the side of the box.
“Here,” said Mr. Greenfield. He took the score pad, laid it on top of the rest of the Yahtzee objects, and closed the box.
Mrs. Balanafeel’s eyes widened, and her purple-painted lips parted in surprise. She rose and waddled off with the Yahtzee box.
“Well, haven’t you noticed, Nora, all the deaths?” whispered Mrs. Tillynaught.
“Um,” said Nora. The deaths? The place was filled with old people! Did they think they were going to live forever?
“This isn’t a hospice, or some kind of extended care ward,” said Mrs. Tillynaught.
With a rattle of playing pieces, Mrs. Balanafeel flipped the Clue board out of the box and opened it on the center of the table.
“Yes, that’s right,” said Mr. Greenfield. “We may be old, but we’re all perfectly healthy.”
For old people, Nora realized they were more or less healthy. There was only one resident in a wheelchair, for example, and only a couple of residents who coughed up gross chunks of green phlegm all the time from a lifetime of smoking. Mr. Greenfield demonstrated and then replaced his hankie in his breast pocket.
“Yeah, I guess,” said Nora.
“I’ll be Miss Peacock,” said Mrs. Balanafeel. Turning to Nora, she added, “I’m always Miss Peacock.”
“But suddenly, every few weeks like clockwork, BLAM!” Mr. Greenfield clapped his hands together with the force of two flyswatters meeting. “Someone else is dead.”
“Take Lillian, for example.”
“Mrs. Cranberry?” Nora asked. Mrs. Cranberry was basically dead the day she started, or thereabouts.
“The very one,” said Mrs. Brackish. “One day, as healthy as a whistle, eating lunch with the rest of us, laughing and joking.”
“Skipping along with her walker,” added Mrs. Tillynaught.
“Then, the next morning, we’re informed she’s dead,” Mrs. Brackish finished. “Very peculiar.”
Nora thought back to all the episodes of CSI she had ever watched. “But the coroner…” she said, not really sure where she was going with this.
“Pshaw, the coroner!” Mr. Greenfield said. He spat again into his hankie, this time perhaps more to emphasize his point about the coroner than to remove phlegm from his blackened lungs.
“The coroner!” Mrs. Brackish exclaimed. “You would think a town this size would have more than one coroner. But it’s the same man, every time.”
“Yes, and he seems awfully young,” said Mrs. Tillynaught, “probably no older than fifty, showing up here in his fancy car and his fancy suit. That man struts in here, walks down the hall as if he is all that, stalks through our beautiful garden to the chapel looking neither left nor right, as if the roses and azaleas are just so many stumps and fence posts, and emerges a few moments later and disappears. Every time. Never any inquiry as to the general state of health of the deceased. Nary a policeman ever accompanies him.” Mrs. Tillynaught leaned forward in her seat and commanded everyone’s attention for her next bit of shocking evidence. “In all the time I have lived here, there has never been a single inquest.”
The other old people gasped in consolidating horror and Mrs. Tillynaught gave a slight nod of her head.
“And then Mr. Carpenter.”
“Retired to his room his usual cheery self, telling his witty jokes and flirting with the ladies all the way. Woke up the next morning, dead.”
“Tell me, Nora. What do you think of that?”
Nora had to agree, it did seem a bit fishy when they explained it. “It’s strange,” she said.
“Professor Plum, in the kitchen, with the rope,” said Mrs. Balanafeel.
All the others nodded.