A Taste of Poison

Raucous laughter was all he could hear.

Richard was not the life of the party, by any standards, but he certainly wasn't a wallflower. He preferred to be in a comfortable medium, involved enough, but not so much that he drew unneeded attention to himself. His approach to life was the same way, and he found he was content with the current arrangement. The people in this room, however, impeccably dressed and apparently no strangers to alcohol, they were the world's talk show hosts, CEOs, journalists, and athletes.

He despised these sorts of people. But, in the tailored black suit and slicked-back wig, Richard fit in well with the rest of them. And that was exactly what he wanted; that way, at least, no one would suspect what he had planned for these people tonight.

"Good evening, sir." He was interrupted in his musings by a meek waiter, looking as if he'd rather be anywhere but here. Richard couldn't help but agree with the sentiment. "Would you care for some hors d'oeuvres?"

"No, thank you," replied Richard, his irritation creeping into the words. The young boy nodded and walked away, where he could be heard offering the tray of caviar – or crab cakes or whatever the hell these rich people liked to eat – to a couple a little ways away. Richard leaned back against the buffet table, shifting slightly when the object inside his jacket pressed against the small of his back. He would have to deal with that later.

For now, he settled for scanning the crowd of well-dressed, well-to-do aristocrats and sipping the sickly-sweet fruit punch, a strange beverage to have at such an affluent party. But, he speculated, perhaps they'd spent so much money on the food that drinks were forgotten.

"And who might you be?" He looked up to see a blonde woman, her hair coiffed and her makeup applied perfectly. She eyed him in a critical manner before apparently deciding he was fit enough to flirt with.

"Richard Arlington," he said, smiling cordially. "And you are..."

"Patricia White." She extended her gloved hand for him to kiss. "Pleasure."


"What brings you to this quaint little soirée?" she asked, an impish grin on her face.

He hesitated. "I was invited by the host himself."

Her eyebrows rose. "Really. Are you a friend of his through the company?"

"No. I'm actually an acquaintance. A confrère, if you will."

Patricia's response was interrupted by an army of waiters and waitresses entering the room, each brandishing a large buffet bowl. Both Richard and Patricia shifted away from the table to allow space for the rather weak-looking people. As they moved, something fell from the folds of Patricia's gown, rolling underneath the table.

Richard's gaze flicked to her, but she didn't look perturbed. He decided he'd leave it for now. He made sure to remember the dish placed on the table directly above the mysterious object – roast pheasant.

"Exciting party, isn't it?" he said casually.

"Oh, yes." Patricia rolled her eyes. "Bunch of stuck-up people in high places."

"That's a very passionate response, Patricia. Are you sure you want to be saying that around here?" said Richard, his tone light but the warning obvious. For a moment, she looked bothered by her own words, by the quick movement her eyes made around the room, searching out someone who'd overheard what she had to say. But then, she relaxed.

"I'm a very outspoken person," she admitted. "It's one of my worst faults."

"Yes. If you'll excuse me," Richard said suddenly, "but I'm afraid I need to make a trip to the washroom."

She nodded. Her gaze had already travelled elsewhere, by the look she was giving the buffet table. Now would be the perfect time, while her attention was diverted. Richard slipped through the crowd, keeping Patricia in his field of view, waiting for the right moment. Now would be the perfect moment to retrieve whatever had rolled underneath the table, while she was distracted.

When he saw the groups of people congregating at the white-cloth-covered buffet table, he doubled back. Almost every person in the room was crowded around it, and this gave him the perfect opportunity to slip underneath the cloth.

Even in the darkness beneath the table, he could tell that whatever had fallen out of Patricia's dress was gone – disappeared. It had probably rolled out while he was chatting her up, distracting her from what he thought was a crucial element in deciding where her allegiance lied. Here, with these rich, A-type personalities, or with people like him – humble, dedicated and hard-working.

Richard crept out from under the table with the smoothness of a snake, and was on his feet before anyone noticed. His gaze was on the floor now, looking for anything out of place. But with the hordes of people covering every foreseeable amount of floor space, he didn't think he would notice. For a second, he wondered if Patricia White had already picked up whatever she had lost.

Patricia. Where was she?

Now he looked around the room, his eyes searching out the blonde hair of his acquaintance, the electric-blue gown she had been wearing. But he saw nothing of the sort. There was one saving grace to this type of party, he soon realized. Everyone wore varying shades of grey.

"Excuse me," someone said, not-so-gently pushing Richard out of the way. He was about to berate whomever that had been when something more important caught his eye. The mysterious object.

Without wasting a moment, he darted off in the direction he'd seen it roll. Not outwardly, of course; otherwise, people would have been asking questions. He did so casually – leaning against the wall whenever the object stopped, taking off again as someone's foot brushed against it.

Richard had seen enough of it that he was able to at least guess at what it could be. It looked light and not at all opaque – perhaps it was some sort of mesh ball. Despite his best efforts to stay incognito, Richard received more than a few strange looks. He wasn't an expert at this, after all.

The elusive mesh ball finally came to a halt underneath an unoccupied table. He breathed a sigh of relief when it paused. Most people, by now, had finished their first plateful of food and were either going to the washroom to freshen up or back to the buffet table for seconds. It wasn't until he glanced back for a moment did he realize that the hall was fairly empty, or at least as empty as it could be before people returned.

People who would be thirsty.

Richard hesitated for a minute, torn between his curiosity and his duty. After a moment of debate, duty won out. With a sigh of exasperation, he turned and walked back to the buffet table.

Patricia had been alone in the bathroom, splashing cold water on her face and trying to relax, when the flood of women showed up. She'd left as quickly as she could after coming to the decision that no makeup was better than haphazard makeup.

Tonight was the one night she couldn't afford to be clumsy. But clumsiness, klutziness and any sort of awkward situation was what her life revolved around. She cursed to herself, once for not revealing to Richard Arlington her true nature, twice for losing the single most important object she had been carrying on her person today, and three times for being such a bumbling idiot.

She entered the ballroom once again, her trained eyes keenly noticing the absence of people and how this would be instrumental in her finding what she had lost. And quickly.

She'd already checked underneath the buffet table while Richard had gone to the washroom, and had concluded almost immediately that it had rolled off somewhere. Using pantyhose to conceal it had probably been a terrible idea, but it seemed the easiest to explain at the time.

After all, how was she to explain a bottle of poison?

The room was beginning to fill up again as people returned from their bathroom breaks, Richard realized. He would have to work quickly if he wanted to find out just what Patricia White was hiding.

His footsteps measured and sure, he manoeuvred his way around tables and waiters to the lone booth near the back of the room. No one from this specific table had returned yet, and he counted his lucky stars for that. After inconspicuously checking to make sure he wasn't being watched, Richard leaned down and crawled beneath the table.

There it was.

As his hand reached for the mysterious object, it was grabbed unexpectedly by a long-fingered, manicured one. He looked up in shock, only to see its owner's green eyes looking back at him. She looked equally surprised.

"Richard?" she whispered.

They both had the same idea. After her whisper of his name, both Richard and Patricia slipped out from underneath the table and casually left the room, their departures unnoticed by the crowds of people coming in from the same doors they used to leave.

The street outside of the building, the main entrance of the hotel hosting this 'soiree,' as Patricia called it, was empty. The night air was chilly, and the frost on the ground was clearly a deterrent to anyone wishing to take a midnight stroll. This worked to the advantage of Patricia and Richard who, like any good TV detectives, exited the building at different times.

"What the hell were you doing under the table?" Patricia hissed, once they'd met up.

"I could ask you the same question," he retorted.

"I was getting this," Patricia answered. "They're my extra pantyhose."

"I know what they are," Richard said impatiently. "The question is, what is this?" He held up a small black bottle, visibly sealed and presumably never used.

Her eyes widened.

"That – that's –"

"The poison you were going to use to murder every last aristocrat in there," said Richard, his voice barely louder than their breathing. He couldn't risk the front being monitored. With the sort of people invited to this party, he wouldn't put it past them.

"Don't be ridiculous," Patricia said, incredulous. "That's my medicine."

"Oh? Are you suicidal?" Richard demanded. "Don't give me that garbage. I know exactly who you are, Agent Patrick, and what you were doing in there. You've got rookie written all over you."

"Okay, so I'm not Patricia White. But this wasn't an FBI operation," Patrick said indignantly. "I went rogue after one of the bastards in there killed my father and got away with it." She pulled the pins out of her hair and tossed them into the sewer grate. "I don't even know who it is – the only thing my father's notes would tell me is that he or she was part of the American League. All those people in there are involved in it."

"So killing all of them would take less time than just searching out the killer."

"I've done my reading," said Patrick, bitter. "Every last one of them's been involved with some sort of murder. But they're always a bystander, or a witness, or a friend of the victim. No one's ever suspected them. I'd be doing the world a favour if I killed them all."

"Do me a favour, kid." Richard handed Agent Patrick the bottle. "Don't make things any harder on yourself. They'll get what's coming to them soon enough."

"No point, anyway," Patrick muttered. "You'd turn me in."

"Maybe not, but that's not the point." Richard looked at the younger woman, her youth more obvious without the makeup she wore. "You're too young to be throwing your life away like that."

She eyed him with a scowl. "And how would you know?" she asked.

"Let's just say I'm not the twenty-five-year-old I appear to be," Richard said.

Now, Agent Patrick looked at Richard thoughtfully. "Who are you?"

He smiled complacently, pulling out a small bottle from the back of his jacket.

"I'm the guy who just poisoned the punch your aristocrat friends are about to toast with."

Just a short piece I wrote for a writing contest (which unfortunately I didn't win). Tell me what you think! =D

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