|Murder in the Mensa Mansion|
Issue #05 (January 1982)
[quoteleft]It was a dark and stormy night. The wind howled through the ancient elms, while the rain beat against the windows of the Mensa Mansion. Suddenly a shout rang out.
'A toast to cur new home!" In the warm and spacious living room, two dozen plastic glasses were raised in celebration. The champagne sparkled, reflecting the blaze in the great baronial fireplace. As the storm raged outside, a unique Mensa party was getting under way.
It had all started six months earlier, when that fabulously rich eccentric, Martin Greatworth, had donated one of his country houses to a small but active Mensa local group. Located just on the edge of town, the house was a classic Edwardian pile of stone turrets and mullioned windows. It was an ideal party house. After countless hours of work -- scrubbing the old flagstoned floors, trimming the vines that covered the lichen-stained walls, repairing and polishing the massive oak furniture -- all was ready for the Housewarming. At last the guests were able to enjoy the results of their labor.
A typical Mensa bunch had turned out. Of course the LocSec was there: John Chessman, thoughtful and hard working, with a wry sense of humor. In the corner, appraising the situation was Natasha, she of the flashing eyes, who was already mounting a challenge to John, trying to wrest away the powerful LocSec's office within the Byzantine politics of the group. Staying cool throughout the turmoil were Ben, the Assistant LocSec, and Mary, Editor of the local newsletter. They knew better than to get caught in the inevitable showdown. The usual love triangle was also present: Rick, Lois, and Ronnie, making eyes at each other and sucking funny little cigarettes. Doyle, the string-puller, was there; he and Natasha had been intriguing together to reorganize the group into something called "The Progress of Mensa." John Panda, genial party-giver, was talking to Charles Sauvignon, the home winemaker, who had brought a selection of vintage wines for the evening. And everywhere was Forelock Holmes, taking flash pictures of the glittering assembly.
Now it was time to go into dinner. The long trestle tables were piled with a festive potluck -- casseroles, salads, and a dozen desserts. On the sideboard were the vintage bottles Charles had brought, with a treasure already uncorked and lying in its wicker basket ("Let it breathe a while," said Charles): a magnum of Chateau Asilomar '65.
John, the LocSec, proposed another toast. "I give you our health," he cried.
"You can't give me my health," objected Doyle; "I already have it."
"I stand corrected."
"You can't stand corrected," observed Ben, the Assistant Locsec, "because you're already sitting down." It was clear that a typical Mensa party was in progress.
"Very well," John conceded, "I will just drink in solemn silence." And he raised a glass of the Chateau Asilomar '65 to his lips.
He drained the glass with a satisfied smack. Looking around the table, his eyes took on a puzzled and distant sheen. Suddenly his face turned bright red, then a dusky purple. He gasped once, clutched his throat with a spasmodic grip, and pitched violently forward, his face making an untidy mess of the mashed potatoes. There was a moment of grotesque silence; then pandemonium broke forth.
Forelock Holmes was the first to sniff the bottle. "Cyanide!" he declared, wrinkling his nose at the reek of bitter almonds. "Enough to kill a horse, let alone a LocSec!"
All eyes turned to Ben, who by this stroke had just been promoted to Locsec. "Not me, " he protested; "Anybody could have slipped into the dining room while the bottle was open on the sideboard. For example -- Natasha!"
Natasha instantly realized that John's unexpected demise would open the way for victory for her in the forthcoming election. But it would not do to have her new regime sullied with rumors of regicide and userpation. She promptly turned to her campaign manager, Doyle. "Really, darling," she breathed, "I thought we were going to run a clean campaign."
"Oh no you don't," growled Doyle, edging toward the door. "I saw who did it -- the one who sneaked into the dining room before dinner: John Panda!"
There was a universal gasp. Lovable, hospitable John! He stood up at his place and cleared his throat. "I just went in there to see what was for dinner," he stammered. He appeared about to say something more, then checked himself and sat down. A silence descended over the room.
"Well," said Forelock Holmes, finally. "They don't call me Holmes for nothing. I have just been examining this bottle. It is a little known fact -- probably something only a Mensan would know - that cyanide in wine produces a whitish precipitate after about four hours. This wine was dosed before the party ever started!"
Charles Sauvignon rose firmly to his feet. "You can't pin this on me," be snarled; "That bottle was sealed when I brought it here. Several of you watched me uncork it. So much for fancy theories!"
"Exactly," said Forelock Holmes, a strange smile playing on his lips.
"Everybody knows that your home wine making equipment includes a cork press. You are the one person present who could have opened the bottle four hours ago and then closed it without a trace... Stop him, somebody!"
As Charles raced for the door, a dozen hands dragged him to his knees. "Damn you and your Mensa mind," he groaned."I would have known anyway," declared Holmes matter-of-factly. '"It's the same in every murder mystery -- it's always the bottler who did it!"