by Richard Ciciarelli
The dinner table was a sight to behold. The gleaming white tablecloth with its dark green holly border was covered with red plates and napkins, shining silverware, and sparkling crystal. The enormous turkey had been carved and portions meted out. Mashed potatoes and gravy, rolls, butter, cranberry sauce, vegetables, everything a holiday feast should have, was there and being enjoyed.
At the head of the table sat Stanley Majors, head of Majors Chemical Company. To his left was his daughter, Linda; to his right, his son, Michael. Directly across from him sat his wife of forty-five years, Ellen.
“I was going to wait till we finished eating,” Majors told his children, “but there’s no sense delaying the bad news. I’ve begun divorce proceedings against your mother.”
Michael’s fork fell with a clank to his plate. Linda’s jaw dropped open, revealing a mouthful of potatoes.
“I’m marrying my secretary as soon as I legally can. And I’ll be changing my will, of course. There’ll be some small bequests for each of you, but nothing on the order of what you’ve expected.”
“You’re not serious,” Linda managed to gasp.
“Oh, but I am,” Majors waggled a fork. “Janet makes me feel young again. And all of you,” he glanced around the table, “only make me feel lighter in the wallet. My New Year’s resolution is to begin a new life for myself, and nothing is going to stop me.”
Michael Majors continued his story. “About ten minutes later he started gasping and choking, and then he fell face-first into his stuffing. We thought he had a heart attack.”
“Well, he didn’t,” Lieutenant Briggs said. “The coroner says he was poisoned by dimethyl-something-something. Some colorless, odorless, tasteless poison with a name about fifteen syllables long. It must have been in his food.”
“Impossible,” Ellen Majors said. “I prepared that food myself, and except for the turkey, I sampled it all the while it was cooking. And I didn’t get poisoned.”
“Besides,” Linda Majors put in, “all the food was in bowls on the table. We all helped ourselves to whatever we wanted.”
“And we all drank the same wine from the same bottle,” Michael said. “But none of us even got sick.”
“I just wish the coroner hadn’t taken three days to perform the autopsy,” Briggs grumbled, “but what with the holidays and all…”
“We ate most of the leftovers,” Ellen said, “but there may still be some in the refrigerator.”
“We’ll check them,” Briggs said, “but if none of you have gotten sick yet, I don’t have much hope of finding anything. I might ask, though, if any of you has access to this poison.” He showed the family a piece of paper with a long chemical name on it.
“I think we manufacture that at the plant,” Michael said. “It’s used in industry to produce certain kinds of plastics.”
“And you work there,” Linda said, pointing to her brother.
“And you wish you were smart enough to,” Michael shot back. “Since you’re not, you only visit the plant every other day or so to hit up Dad for money so you can go shopping.”
“Stop arguing,” Ellen interrupted. “We all spend time at the plant, either working or visiting, but none of us would poison your father. Maybe he swallowed that stuff some other time and it took a long time to kill him.”
“Nope,” Briggs shook his head. “The coroner says this poison acts in about a half hour. Your husband was definitely poisoned by something he ate.”
“But we all ate the same thing,” Linda reminded Briggs.
“So you did,” the lieutenant mumbled. “And I appreciate your honesty about your description of your father’s dinner announcement. You realize, of course, it provides you all with motive.”
“Not me,” Michael said. “I really don’t need Father’s money. I’m vice president of the company. I make a good living.”
“As long as Father didn’t fire you,” Linda said. “The only reason you’re there is because you’re his son. As a chemist, you make a great street sweeper.”
“I have a college degree,” Michael said. “You couldn’t even get into college. And with your looks, you couldn’t even find a husband to support you.”
“Like your marriage was so hot. How long did it last? Three months?”
“Stop it, both of you,” Ellen shouted. “Your father’s body is barely cold and you’re carrying on like this.”
“Your mother is right,” Briggs said. “There’s no need to accuse each other. Besides, I think I know who killed your father. Only one of you had a motive at the time of the poisoning.”
“But how could that be, Lieutenant? We were all going to be cut out of the will.”