When I’d volunteered to attend Discovery Co-op’s Murder Mystery Dinner I didn’t know what exactly I was in for.
In the split second between hearing my editor say “Co-op is hosting a murder myste” and my mouth responding “I’ll go to it,” a few images popped in my head — mainly plot elements of movies Clue and Gosford Park and what I could remember of a game played in the dark at a childhood friend’s house for her birthday.
Would I get a part? What if they made me the victim, or worse, the murderer? I didn’t want to be the murderer.
Also, what about the game I played at my friend’s house? It had something to do with crayons.
From what I could remember the players would wander around in the dark with their crayons and scrape part of someone’s coloured-crayon wax under a fingernail until the lights came on and you could see who you murdered—or, something like that. I haven’t played it in a while. To be honest I’m not sure I didn’t just dream it up.
I was willing to bet Co-op’s Murder Mystery Dinner wasn’t going to be anything like a game I may have invented in a dream or played at a birthday party when I was 12.
Plus, I thought, eating in the dark sounded inconvenient. So I was gratified to find out a short time later that my instincts in this case were completely wrong.
As it turned out, I wasn’t going to be made to play the murderer. The parts of suspects, victim and murderer were all scheduled to be performed by Battlefords Community Players, so it wouldn’t be necessary for me to brush up on the cockney accent I inexplicably imagined I’d speak with were I ever involved in a pretend murder investigation.
The dinner was scheduled for 7 p.m. with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. to give everyone time to talk with the performers before dinner was served.
At the entrance to the café I handed a young Co-op worker my ticket while declining the option to buy a glass of wine to go with dinner — I needed all cylinders firing perfectly if I was going to crack this case.
I’d invited my mother and sister to come along, too, and we spotted my aunt and cousin at a table near the middle of the café and joined them.
Within seconds, drinks were being poured and we began to chat excitedly about what to expect. My aunt, who had attended the dinner the previous year, gave us newbies at our table the rundown.
Basically, the actors would be performing a character and we’d have to talk with them and hopefully pick up on any clues they dropped.
A few minutes after sitting down the actors joined the fold in the café and began to introduce themselves to the chattering dinner guests.
The first performer to visit our table was Dolores Bradley, who, the table mats at each place setting helpfully noted, is married to Emmett Bradley and whose marriage is rumoured to be rocky.
Now was my chance to shine. Just because I wasn’t precisely asked to perform a character didn’t mean I couldn’t come up with something.
“How is your husband?” I asked, playing along and grinning excessively, proud of my presence of mind to strike right to the heart of the matter.
“He’s at home, if he knows what’s good for him,” Mrs. Bradley responded grimly and everyone at the table “ooh!’d” thinking we were on to something now.
My table mates, who hadn’t yet read their placemats, complimented my seemingly unnerving ability to assess character.
“How’d you know about her husband?” they asked, somewhat amazed.
I was about to announce I must have a knack, a gift one might say, when someone at the table pointed out the character bios on the mats in front of each of us.
Next up to our table was Yvonne. Sometime over the course of speaking to her we discovered she’s a “lady of the night.” Things were starting to get interesting.
Yvonne’s associates, Gertrude, Constance and their madam, Myrtle, respectfully stopped by a few minutes later to introduce themselves, too, as well as a few other townspeople.
Myrtle mentioned that she, Gertrude and Yvonne would be moving on soon. In their line of work they didn’t stay in one place for long.
During one of several visits from the performers who found their way to our table, Gertrude offhandedly mentioned in response to our polite grilling that she wanted to work for herself one day. Ah ha, I thought, a motive.
Constance, who returned for another solo visit a short while later, then informed us both Yvonne and Gertrude are jealous that she’s more popular with the “patrons.”
All of us at the table began to find Gertrude looking mighty guilty, notwithstanding the lack of a murder having been committed by that point in the evening. We needed to stay vigilant.
At the “town meeting” held on a small stage at the end of the café, North Battleford’s citizens concerned with the operation of a “den of iniquity” in their very town gathered to discuss the matter with an inspector, who had been called in to discern whether the chief of police had ever been a visitor to Myrtle’s “home.”
The inquiry turned quiet and one of Myrtle’s girls let out a piercing scream. Myrtle fell to the stage. Chief McGregor rushed to her side and, a few beats later, announced to the crowd, full of feeling, “my God, she’s dead!”
The rapt diners gave the performers a hearty applause as Myrtle was lifted onto a stretcher and carried down the aisle and out of the Co-op café. It was time to eat.
Dinner was the café’s signature roast beef with steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes and yorkshire pudding, with apple crumble for desert. Between bites we discussed theories about the murder that had just taken place. Maybe it was Dolores, I wondered aloud.
“Maybe she was jealous and angry because Emmett was often a client” I said without much conviction in the words. My strategy, which some might consider foolish, was to go for the least likely choice, in the event the organizers were trying to throw me off the scent. No one else shared this strategy. The common guess among my table mates was that one of Myrtle’s employees was the guilty person. I smiled smugly; I wouldn’t be fooled so easily.
After dinner was over it was time for the performers to retake their positions on the stage as the town meeting became a trial.
Several townspeople were questioned, including Dolores and her husband Emmett, Chief McGregor, Gertrude, Yvonne and Constance, among others.
Then it was the audience’s turn. We were asked to fill out a small handout asking us who killed Myrtle and whether Chief McGregor was guilty of patronizing the “house of ill repute.”
We discussed quickly among ourselves. A verdict hadn’t yet been reached as to whether Chief McGregor was guilty of improper conduct at Myrtle’s. Could he have tried to silence Myrtle’s testimony by poisoning her?
Or maybe Gertrude really was ready to head out on her own and be her own boss. What about Yvonne? Sometimes it’s the one you least suspect. And then there was Constance. Did she have a motive we missed?
We had just a few minutes to come to our final verdict so I hastily wrote down Mrs. Bradley. I was serious about my nonsensical strategy. Plus, I thought, it would be all the more satisfying to win if I turned out to be the only person silly enough to pick the person with the weakest motive.
The papers were collected and the trial reconvened. The soft-spoken Chief McGregor, with a sudden burst of energy, began to loudly and sternly interrogate his fellow suspects.
Both Yvonne and Gertrude were loyal to Myrtle, but there was one person in particular who didn’t want to see them go: Constance; she wasn’t part of Myrtle’s plans to leave North Battleford and she couldn’t stand it.
During her passionate confession, Constance shared more of her story and filled in the missing pieces.
She’d worked at the grocery store before Myrtle convinced her to work for her at her brothel and now "she was going to leave North Battleford without (her)?" she asked incredulously.
The tables of enthralled diners stared in awe as Constance was arrested and taken away, which signalled the end of the show. The diners gave a big round of applause to all the performers who helped make the evening entertaining.
Even though I, or anyone else in my group, didn’t solve the murder, we can all rest easy knowing, at least when it comes to Co-op’s Murder Mystery Dinner, justice always prevails.