Miss Myrtle's Guide to Solving a Murder

Anxiously biting down on my lip, I walked uneasily down the dim corridor. The walls were covered in some ancient floral wallpaper, which rightfully belonged in retirement homes and grandmothers' houses. As a matter of fact, the hallway did sort of smell like my grandmother's house, musty and sterile. To make matters worse, there were no windows and the only light came from a few old-fashioned lamps, placed on identical end tables beside every fifth apartment door. My destination was apartment 1313, which should have been thirteen doors away. Though, I was no stranger to bad luck.

The whole thing had started a week earlier, when my school announced its first annual "Career Day." Against their own will, every student in the sophomore class was forced to follow a member of the community around for a day, in hopes that they might actually learn something about that person's career. Though, we did actually have a choice in deciding our "future goal," which determined who we would be paired with. I'd always been fascinated with crime dramas and stuff, so I chose law enforcement as my aspiration. That was a mistake. Rather than being paired with some renegade cop who makes his own rules, I somehow got stuck with Miss Elizabeth Cynthia Myrtle, private detective.

Stopping solemnly in front of the woman's door, I brought up my fist and knocked. She had a name plaque, 'Elizabeth Myrtle, P.I.' How Cute. Maybe I would learn something from this lady after all. She had been in the business for over fifty years, or so I was told.

"Yes?" came a dignified, old voice from the other side.

"I'm here from Monroe High," I said, shifting my weight onto my left foot. Before I could finish speaking, however, the door was pulled open by a tiny old woman of at least eighty. Like the hallway, she herself was very old-fashioned, with tiny silver glasses and a long, navy dress. However, the worst was the tiny feathered hat on her mound of white hair. To be completely honest, she didn't look at all how a detective should look.

"You must be Jeffery. It's so wonderful to meet you. Do come inside," she smiled, beckoning me into her door.

"You can call me Jeff. Everybody does," I nodded awkwardly, stepping into the dim apartment, which thankfully wasn't quite as dim as the corridor. Though, it was pretty darn close. The one-roomed office was like something out of an old movie, with the cluttered desk and various exotic knickknacks scattered about. On the desk, she even had a jeweled magnifying glass, which must've been as old as she was.

"Sit down, dear," Miss Myrtle ordered, taking her position behind the desk. "We have very much to do and very little time."

"Um, thank you, ma'am," I responded, sitting across from her in a vacant armchair that smelled unpleasantly like tobacco. Rather than dropping my backpack on the floor, I clutched it close to my chest. Truthfully, I was afraid I'd disturb the dust on the floorboards if I dropped it. As strange as it sounds, the dust just seemed to belong there, and had probably been there for years. So, I didn't feel it was my place to disturb it.

"Don't ever call me 'ma'am.' Ma'am is my mother. My name is Miss Myrtle, world-renowned private eye," the woman snuffed, staring at me from behind her spectacles.

"I'm sorry, Miss Myrtle. So, are we going to stop any robberies? Solve any crimes?"

"Heavens, no! You don't know a thing about this trade, and therefore, I intend to teach you from the very beginning!"

"Oh, okay," I nodded meekly. For such a tiny woman, she did indeed have a very commanding presence.

"I suggest you take some notes," the Detective stood up, moving for the window and stroking her chin. I shrugged and pulled a marble notebook and pen from my bag. Blushing, I quickly flipped to a blank page, hoping Miss Myrtle wouldn't notice the rather 'inappropriate' drawings I had doodled on the cover.

"Now, listen well, Jeffery. I'm going to teach you how to solve a murder. First, a detective's attire is very important. If you are a gentleman, a pipe and silly hat are appropriate. However, they are not at all becoming to a lady," the elderly woman said, beginning to pace.

"Pipe and silly hat," I nodded, scribbling down some notes simply to please her. Frankly, I really thought she was an old loon.

"Now, Sherlock Holmes was the master of the silly hat and pipe. He had quite a crush on me back in the day. So did Poirot, but that's another story," Miss Myrtle chuckled to herself, as if reminiscing.

"Oh, I can imagine," I smiled cheekily, trying my very best to avoid snickering.

"Anyway, let's move on. Now, for your tools, you need only two things. The first is a magnifying glass. It's very useful for finding fingerprints on brandy glasses and the like. The second is a notebook. You wouldn't want to have the whole thing figured out and then forget it, now would you?"

"No. I hate it when that happens, but…you mean you don't use a gun or anything, like in those TV shows?" I asked.

"Never! A detective only needs his wits and a clever mind to get out of danger. Why, I remember back in 1940, a certain Mrs. Peacock was chasing me with a candlestick and I pulled out just fine. Now, you must know one thing. English mansions, trains, boats, and Scottish castles are just begging for a murder to happen. They lure in killers like a spider with flies," Miss Myrtle said matter-of-factly.

"I'll be sure to keep away from those."

"Why? I live for those places. Those are where all the action is."

"I see," I raised an eyebrow at her, suddenly struck with the idea that the whole thing might just be a huge practical joke. She couldn't be serious.

"Now, the same sorts of people are always involved in these things. Just remember, the Colonel is never guilty."

"The Colonel?" I scrawled another note in my pad.

"There's always a Colonel, but he's usually much too chicken to actually kill anyone. He's never much harm, just excessively proud and excessively stupid. Next, there's always a young, blonde thing who's usually only looking to steal the victim's money. Next, there's the maid and the butler, who may or may not be married, depending on their preferences. And finally, comes the rich old widow."

"Right," I nodded vaguely.

"Next, you begin your investigation, young sleuth. First, you must decide if the brandy was poisoned, which it most likely was. This is where your magnifying glass comes in handy, because the blonde thing always leaves a fingerprint on the brandy glass. Anyway, you must interrogate her, but she'll try to seduce you and you won't learn a thing."

"Have young blonde things tried to seduce you in the past?" I asked with fake innocence.

"As a matter of fact, they have," Miss Myrtle narrowed her eyes at me. "Because they never tell you a thing, you must rely on finding clues! Clues are the most vital part of solving the case. However, beware of red herrings."

"Oh, don't worry. I hate seafood."

"Don't get smart with me, young man. If you know where to look, you'll always find the proper clues. Whether it's a string of pearls, or a discarded hankie, the killer is required to leave something behind at the crime scene. It's the law."

"I see," I nodded. I was actually becoming quite interested in the whole thing.

"Furthermore, every single suspect has the motive, but, who had the opportunity? I'll tell you who," the old woman said victoriously.

"Who?"

"The butler."

"The butler? Why? I thought it would be the rich widow. Or the blond thing. Or the maid, but not the Colonel. The Colonel never does it," I grinned.

"That may be, but the butler always does it. He gets tired of taking orders, and bam! Kills his employer! That's the number one rule, and if you cannot remember anything else, never forget that."

"Yes, ma'am," I nodded.

"What did I tell you about calling me that?"

"Yes, Miss Myrtle."

"Very well. Go off and solve your first crime," she shooed me with her hand. "I have work to do."

"Um, thank you?" I awkwardly stood up and moved for the door.

"Oh, Jeff. Take this. You'll need it," she smiled, tossing me her jeweled magnifying glass from her desk.

"For the fingerprints on the brandy glass?" I asked, catching it.

"Precisely. Now, good day."

I thanked her again before creeping out to the hall and gently closing the door. Staring at the magnifying glass in my hand, I wondered about what exactly had just happened. Those had been the oddest fifteen minutes of my young life. And if you want to know the truth, I think Agatha Christi's the blame

***

I didn't think about Miss Myrtle again until the following week. As far as I was concerned, she was just some crazy old bird. Crazy might be an understatement, but I guess she didn't mean any harm by her lecture on solving murders. In fact, her magnifying glass had been in my book bag since the day I met her. The main reason was that if my parents saw it, they'd make me return it, and I didn't want to go back to that spooky apartment. Still, it was Miss Myrtle's fault that I failed my 'Career Day' report. My lovely English teacher, Mrs. Fink, insisted that we all write a five paragraph essay on what we learned from our partner. So, I thought it'd be funny to hand in a report on exactly what Miss Myrtle had taught me, all about fingerprints on brandy glasses and seductive blonde women. However, Mrs. Fink didn't find it amusing and decided to give me a speech on how "lying isn't mature for my age" and how "I should care more about my schoolwork." The usual stuff. But when I calmly explained that I wasn't necessarily lying and that Mrs. Myrtle really did tell me all those things, she gave me detention for "back talking" and "disruptive behavior." I'll never understand teachers. Furthermore, Mrs. Fink always insisted on wearing gloves to school, so she wouldn't get any of our "germs." She and Miss Myrtle would've been bosom buddies, I tell you. Old loons of a feather stick together.

Anyway, the way detention at Monroe High works is that everyone who's "a burden on society" stays at school until seven o' clock at night, cleaning the classrooms, while the principal sits in his office and pretends to do his job. That particular Friday, there were six delinquents, including me.

The first was Darryl Hepburn, a sophomore like me. He was a huge, hulking kid with a buzz cut and a big head. I only mention his big head, because, frankly, he had one in both the literal and figurative senses. He liked to stomp around on his big feet and brag about how brave, strong, smart, athletic, and handsome he was. Furthermore, he enjoyed referring to himself in third-person. He got detention when he hit some kid who pointed out all the flaws in his story about "meeting the Queen of England herself." That unfortunate kid was me, and I have the bruise to prove it.

The second delinquent was Rhonda Liang, a senior. I didn't know much about her, except for the fact that she was filthy rich. I heard that she had tried to bribe her way out of failing Mrs. Fink's AP English class, and I think we all know how that ended.

The third criminal was Pepper, a freshman. She never told anybody her last name, and I still wonder if she even had one in the first place. Overall, I guess she was kind of pretty, if you're into miniskirts and fake hair. I kind of felt bad for her, mainly because she had let herself become Darryl's trophy girlfriend. From a reliable source, I heard she got detention for trying to give Mrs. Fink tips on "getting that hair off her upper lip." And once again, we all know how that ended.

Fourth was Alan Lear, the poor pushover. He was the type of person who always says "I'm sorry" when he didn't actually do anything wrong, and he was easy prey for people like Darryl. If you told Alan Lear to jump, he'd say "How high?" According to my sources, the always lovely Mrs. Fink had given him a detention for showing up late to her class. The kid was probably stuck in a locker or something, but Mrs. Fink's chooses to ignore those types of things.

Finally, there was Annie Raymond, another sophomore. A tiny, pale wisp of a person, Annie was often forgotten. Though, I must admit, she was probably the nicest person you could ever hope to meet. She'd tried to rescue a frog from the Biology Lab, and well, the thing escaped from her backpack during ol' Mrs. Fink's English class. The frog did manage to flee through a window, but Annie was left to face the wrath of Finkie alone.

Now, I'll start from the very beginning. I was sweeping the floor, while Annie viciously scrubbed Mrs. Fink's blackboard. It was raining outside that night, and a sudden flash of lightning caused Pepper to scream.

"It's only lightning. Now, could you please do something?" Annie frowned, dipping her sponge back into her bucket of grimy, brown water.

"I am doing something. See?" Pepper said, spraying some air freshener out of a nearby can. And with that, she went back to whispering and giggling with her darling Darryl.

"I think that's enough, Annie," I said, pulling off my baseball cap and scratching my head.

"I like things clean," she smiled at me, going back to scrub some more. To spite her, Pepper strolled over and began making chalky fingerprints all over the board.

"Hey, kids," Rhonda said suddenly, poking around a table in the back of the room. "You'd better come over here." She always referred to us as 'kids," because Rhonda, of course, was blessed with the privilege of being conceived first.

"What is it?" Darryl stood up. "See a spider? Darryl will kill it for you."

"Stop being a moron," Rhonda rolled her eyes. "It's the fish. I think it's dead." She poked the round fishbowl, which housed Mrs. Fink's prized Goldfish, Huckleberry Finn.

"Dead?" Annie asked, walking over to examine the bowl. Being an animal expert, she bent over and literally pressed her nose against the glass.

"Gross. I hate dead things," Pepper squealed with an exaggerated gagging motion.

"Well, is it dead?" I asked, putting down my broom.

"Yeah. My scientific analysis proves that this thing is indeed dead," Annie nodded at me. The fish was floating upside down and not moving, but I decided not to ruin her thunder. Let her have her moment.

"Just great. She's going think one of us did it, and we'll get detention again. I don't know about you all, but I'm not spending another Friday with the Breakfast Club," Rhonda sighed, clasping her ringed fingers together.

"It probably just died on its own," Alan said, seeming to materialize out of thin air. "Fish only live for a few weeks anyway."

"I don't think so…The cap's off the fish food," I said, picking up the container. Nearby was the cap itself, still half full with blue cleaning fluid. As crazy as it sounds, somebody had poisoned this fish.

"So?" Pepper asked.

"Somebody poisoned this fish," I said, trying to sound as dark and mysterious as possible. Running for my book bag, I pulled out Miss Myrtle's magnifying glass. Maybe it would come in handy after all

"What are you doing, weirdo?" Pepper spat, giggling. That made Darryl giggle, who made Rhonda giggle, which made Annie giggle. Then, Alan giggled because everyone else was giggling.

"Investigating," I said, picking up the fish food bottle and thoroughly examining it. "I'm going to find out which one of you did this."

"Why would any of us kill a fish?" Darryl asked. "Besides, I'd do it the old fashioned way, with my bare hands." Can you believe it? He was bragging about murdering a Goldfish.

"Well, Mrs. Fink gave us all detention. Wouldn't this be the perfect way to get back at her?" I asked. "Aha!" I was really doing a good job of putting on a show, and having a grand time while doing it.

"What?" Annie asked, surprised by my sudden outburst.

"A fingerprint," I exclaimed, running for the blackboard like they do in those old movies. "And it belongs to none other than Miss Pepper…Pepper…whatever her last name is," I pointed at the various prints she had left on the chalkboard.

"Oh, come on, Jeff. You don't actually think I did this, do you?" she ran over, grabbing me by the shirt. She giggled, pulling off my hat, running a hand through my hair, and batting her eyelashes. She was actually trying to seduce me, except she was a young brunette thing and not a young blonde thing. I was rather enjoying it, mostly because Darryl's face had contorted into an odd mixture of anger and jealousy.

"Can you prove you didn't do it?" I asked sternly.

"Yes! It's my job to feet poor little Huck, so it's only natural my prints be on his food. And me and Darryl were together the whole time, isn't that right, honey bunch?"

"You did leave for a few seconds…" Darryl backed away.

"I didn't do anything. I'm innocent!" Pepper angrily sat down and pouted for a good four minutes.

"Well, Darryl and Pepper wouldn't have the guts to kill anything anyway," Annie said. "And besides, Jeff. You saw me cleaning the board. That means I didn't do it."

"Right, so I guess that leaves Rhonda and Alan," I scratched my chin real spectacularly, like ol' Sherlock himself.

"I didn't do it," Rhonda jumped up.

"You found the body," Darryl challenged. "She did it! See? Darryl cracked the case! Hah!"

"Oh, shut up," Rhonda slapped him in the shoulder.

"She's innocent," I said.

"How do you know, Sherlock?" Pepper was still pouting.

"Because she's not wearing gloves."

"What does that mean?" Pepper tossed an eraser at my head.

"The only fingerprints on the fish food can were yours, Pepper. Mrs. Fink wears gloves, so she wouldn't leave any, right?"

"Right," everyone nodded in unison.

"Now, wouldn't the fish killer leave fingerprints too? There were none."

"Yeah, so?" Pepper raised an eyebrow at me.

"So, the killer was wearing gloves," Annie smiled. I wish she hadn't stolen my thunder, but I digress.

"Why would Mrs. Fink kill her fish?" Rhonda frowned.

"She wouldn't. It was…" I extended a hand and pointed at Alan, who was already stashing his yellow rubber cleaning gloves in the wastebasket.

"Him?" Darryl jumped up, causing Pepper to jump up and trip over her own feet.

"I'm sorry…I…I was tired of everyone pushing me around, especially Mrs. Fink. She'd never listen…ever. I just…" Alan stammered.

"It's okay, Alan. We all would've done the same thing, given the chance," Rhonda sighed. "Now, who wants to head down to the pet store and pick up a replacement? I've got a hundred bucks here somewhere, and an extra ten for whoever does my English homework." No wonder she was failing.

Anyway, in the end, I guess Miss Myrtle did teach me one thing. Nothing's ever as complicated as it seems, even murder mysteries. And since then, I've learned that there is always a butler, young blond thing, colonel, maid, and old widow. They've just changed their titles to fit the twenty-first century.