Alexandra watched the other guests frown and start to protest. Except one of the table: it was not long before Mrs. Winters was clapping her hands and laughing so hard with her cackle to call the highest-pitched medusas.
“Cynthia Glass of all people! How did you guess the inevitable, my dear?”
Cynthia flicked them a gloating grin, soaking up the attention and boasting her glory. Daphne sat up, and tucked a strand of her orange hair into place, her scowl emerging deep and meaningful.
“You played it well, ma’am,” replied Cynthia. “You were brisk and angry, and too convinced on the matter of Azura’s guilt, although it could have been any of us as the real murderer, even me. I could have been in the same position with Mr. Biggins as Azura was accused of. I, or Daphne, or you…and that was what begun my thoughts towards the true.
“Too, you played the other hand, always coming back to the first death and the knowledge that Azura didn’t like either of the Renfield brothers… There was something there, always pushing at my mind. Finally the barrier cleared, and I could see that your one-mindedness, if you’ll excuse the phrase, was put upon.”
At this, Mr. Biggins stood up and executed a full bow to those who clapped him.
“In fact, despite appearing as a rather uncaring woman at first, Azura never had a strong enough motive for Toby’s death, did she? An argument gone bad: that’s all it was, and we were fools to read more than necessary…but you led the others back from finding out newer motives that might have implicated yourself, and vocally gathered them in Ms. Peterson’s direction for us to over-analyse.”
Daphne, once again, looked bored. She gave Joshua a flirtatious look, which he returned with double the delighted eye. They both wished to be somewhere other than right there, at that point.
“Tell me then,” spoke Azura, “what was the lady’s motive?” The whole sentence was said with a general kindness towards Cynthia, but the one word ‘motive’ had Ms. Peterson sour-faced.
“Well…I don’t know exactly. Not without a full look at the information that the whole cast could provide. My own is not very helpful; it just says that I won’t die and that I don’t know the reasons behind the first death. Although I can guess somewhat…”
She looked up at Mrs. Winters, her eyes shining like a praised child. Mrs. Winters who was positively glowing with the fun of it all, nodded politely.
“As far as I could tell from it all,” Cynthia continued at this prompt, “something happened between the characters Mrs. Winters and Mr. Biggins. He never married, but it was said that he had an affair with a certain high-society lady, and she was a somebody married. If the name of that certain lady got out to her husband and the press…well, there would be trouble for them both…”
Mrs. Winters laughed. Not that she would normally condone this sort of behaviour.
“Indeed. Jolly well done.” Then she explained the full story.
“Mr. Renfield, scorned because I could not bear to expand the cracks that were appearing in my proud English family and so I had left him to care for my broken husband and young daughter, had been threatening to tell my husband if I did not continue my outrageous relationship with him. He stated that I had strung him along and then discarded him without love or another thought. That’s not true; I felt for him, but I could not feel more for him with my family in that current situation. We both had money, so he could not use that to persuade me, and indeed, the golden net was the first to let the fish through.
“After a matter of weeks, Mr. Renfield realised that I was not going to relent, and he was preparing to tell my husband this day, in a splendid declaration involving these celebrated people and therefore the county. I would have been ruined! My whole reputation turned over simply for a man. My efforts to keep the family together would then have been in vain, and I would have had no-one.”
“Like so many ladies of society,” admitted Azura, softly shaking her mahogany head. “Losing everything for a second glance at passion.”
Daphne leant back in her chair and grinned at Joshua.
“This will be my death,” she mouthed at him, and mimed drawing a dagger across her throat. Joshua barked a laugh that he could no longer hold back, and received the harshest glare of the evening from Cynthia. It was clear to even the most dim-witted or unnoticing of those gathered that they were not a happy couple.
“My dear daughter, Daphne, here,” Mrs. Winters continued nevertheless, putting out a firm hand to stop her daughter’s flirtatious misbehaving, “walked in on us, um…in flagrante delicto…and, loving her father very much more than I, was also thinking of telling him. Especially, after Mr. Renfield died across the table from her, as she knew that he and herself were the only ones with knowledge worth killing for; all that was left of my hidden knowledge was her that sat across from the dead. It would have been up to her, faithful to the end. So…she had to go too.”
“Your own daughter.” Daphne was revolted.
“Real murderers do that, Daphne. I’m sorry, but it’s true.”
“And why did I have to die, ma’am?” Peter emerged from the patio, and Alexandra was pleased to see that he had not taken any more family antiques.
“My queen character didn’t know whether your character was concealing the truth that his brother had confided in him of the affair. I should have seen it as incorrect when you mentioned they were estranged… You were hinting well. Perhaps he had found one of his brother’s love-letters to me whilst rummaging in the study for money…perhaps not. Mr. Stones, the secret is yours to do with as you wish.”
“Indeed, I shall keep it forever, honourable ma’am.”
“And Rhaïd?” Cynthia asked promptly.
“He knew too much… Nobody likes a detective poking around in their private lives.” Mrs. Winters left her explanation at that. She didn’t seem too sure of the reason herself. Her face clouded over with confusion for a second, but cleared as Mr. Winters stood up, toasting her from the opposite side of the room.
“Well now, it seems my wife has had all her fun, and we dearly hope that it’s been appreciated by the entire company here. What an experience for your gracious selves to tell to future generations!
“Before the few of us who wish to remain retire to the sitting room, there are a few more matters that I myself wish to wrap up.”
Alexandra looked up from examining her chipped nails and frowned at her master. The game was over, surely? This twist hadn’t been in the lady’s plan.