He wore a long trench coat, that sagged at the hinges. A straight hat covered his head, where little sprouts of hair escaped beneath. The crowd in the room hushed as he entered, their eyes turning to his shoes. All were afraid to look at his face.
He seem oblivious to the reason for his being there, and moved over to the cabinet to pour himself a scotch. Six pairs of eyes followed the movements of his feet.
Finally, as the silence squeezed each person's mind, one spoke.
"Won't you sit down sir." She retuned her eyes to his shoes.
He took a singular chair, and sat upon its edge.
The hostess prevailed to speak again. "I trust you got here safely. The rain is starting to quite come in, and that can make it hard to reach here if its heavy." She smiled. "Except for those sturdy few."
The other people in the room had sunk themselves into seats, but all rested uncomfortably.
He shook his head, but did not speak.
The inhabitants of the room pattered in their minds, thinking of distractions to bid them leave.
The, as each one felt like just rising and storming out, he spoke. "I'll have to stay the night." His voice was husky, grown."
"Naturally." No one else had dared to open their mouths.
"I'd like to see my room now."
"Na- of course Sir. Dear, why don't you show him to his room?" she directed this to her husband who was shaking quietly on the edge of the sofa.
All were afraid to be alone with this man
"Ah well, I don't quite know which room," he said.
The hostess frowned as if lost for a moment, then spoke as if not vexed. "Third room on the second floor dear. Mr Gardiner, why don't you go with James and… our new guest, and you can see the gun collection you've been wanting to examine."
The three of them exited the room.
As if there was a lifted spell, the remaining four people erupted into words.
"My, my, look at him."
"Quite upright if I may say so."
"I wonder if he's any good."
"Mr Bertie, Miss Taimon and Mrs Shiena, please quiet down. These are old walls, the sound may travel."
They all stopped talking and looked around fearfully.
"Now mister, mister… my gosh I've forgotten his name. Did anyone catch it?" The hostess prevailed on them.
They all shook their heads.
"Why not just call him X for now," Mr Bertie put in.
"That will do. Mr X is here to do a job, and we must support him in any way possible."
"What is he even here for?" Mrs Shiena asked.
"He's here's to fix the generator. Mrs Shiena you've been complaining about the cold all day, I thought you knew."
The old woman turned away with a contemptuous sigh.
The two men returned and sat down with relief.
"He's gone to look at the generator now," James said, sinking down in his seat.
Idle conversation soon returned to the company, and one by one, they trailed off to bed.
"Mable," James said, when the others had left. "How many people have we had come to our guesthouse?"
"Oh probably a near hundred. We have been doing this for some years."
"And none as strange at that man."
"He's not a guest though dear, remember that. He's just here to fix the generator." Mable smiled and left the room.
"That's what they all say," the host muttered, and followed his wife.
The guests ambled themselves down to breakfast, each joining the growing crowd.
"Where's Mr X?" Mr Gardiner inquired, when all the other guests had arrived.
James replied to the question. "I don't know. He was still working on the generator late last night."
"Maybe you should take some breakfast up to him." Mable handed James a silver tray stocked with food.
He came back ten minutes later, tray still in hand. "He wasn't there."
"He might be working on the generator, go on."
He left again.
Mable continued to patter around. "Now what do you think of the eggs, I sprinkled the salt in the pan this time you see."
Each of them rushed out when they heard the scream. None heard their own scream as they saw the body of Mr X, a bullet in his chest.
"My word," Mr Gardiner said, leaning closer.
"Uh, oh my," Mable fluttered.
James saw the need to take control. "Why don't you take the guests to the living room dear. Mr Gardiner, if I may have your assistance."
In the living room the guests collapsed, seemingly unsure of what to think.
"I can assure you," Mable said, "that this never happens here. Out guesthouse is entirely safe, and if you ever wish to return," she sunk lower in her chair. "No, I'll doubt you'll want to return after this."
Mr Bertie moved over to the spirit cabinet. "I know it's early, but after this occurrence, I can't think of any other thing to do." The young man filled the glass.
Miss Taimon was sniffling, wiping her nose with her sleeve.
"Oh I should have tissues in here. You're really never going to come back!" Mable cried. "Oh where did Mr Gardiner go?"
"Lily take my tissue, you really needn't cry," Mrs Shiena said. "And Mable, Mr Gardiner is with James, remember. You do not need to worry about your guesthouse, there is no point to it."
There was no more talk until the men returned.
"Well the phone lines are out," James announced. "The rain must have brought down the signal."
"What do we do now then?" Miss Taimon cried. "There could be a murder running in our midst."
"Ah my dear girl," Mr Gardiner approached. "There had been a murder, and so there is a murderer. There is no detective, so it us who must take on that role."
"It sounds quite exciting," Mr Bertie chimed in.
"Sir, I think you've have enough drinks this morning."
He looked down at his half-empty glass. "This is only my first."
"We're all going to die!"
"Miss Taimon, please calm yourself. We must be rational about this. Someone wanted Mr X dead, not us. We are all safe." Mr Gardiner smiled around at everyone.
"Wouldn't it just be better if we waited for the rain to clear, then one of us could ride to town," James advised.
"Nonsense, by then the killer may have escaped." The old man seems like the only eager person in the room. "Now are we all sitting? Good. I've examined the body and found that the only wound was a shot to the chest. It seems to of come from a K600. I'd know my guns anywhere," he added proudly before continuing. "He was struck right beside the generator, so probably just after he had climbed down. Is everyone following so far?"
Five heads nodded.
"So somehow, someone was able to sneak up on him. Did anyone hear or see anything last night?"
Five heads shook.
"Oh!" Mable gasped suddenly.
"What? What do you remember?"
"I left something in the oven. I must go turn it off." She left the room.
Mr Gardiner returned to his speech. "Mr Bertie, how is your gun skill?"
"It is amiable," he replied.
"The guns were here when we bought the place, I've never used them."
"How about you Mrs Shiena?"
"How dare you accuse me of even touching one of those ghastly things."
"Too right ma'am. And you Miss Taimon?"
"No." She shook her head slightly. "No."
Mr Bertie rose, and his actions took Mr Gardiner's eye from the young woman.
"Where are you going now?" He inquired.
"The bathroom. I may have drunk more than I let one before." He left the room.
Mr Gardiner did not seem to falter in his questions. "James, at what time did you last see Mr X."
The host thought for a moment. "It would have been midnight. I looked out the window and he was still there, fiddling around with the generator."
"So he must have been killed after that. Mrs Shiena?"
The old woman had begun to make her way to the door. "I am sorry sire but I can really stand no more of this. If you need me I shall be in my room, reading quietly." She left the room.
The young woman seemed started to be addressed. "Yes."
"At what time do you think you got to sleep last night?"
"Um, well I think, it would have, I guess it would have been 10 o'clock. I was tired, very tired."
"Miss Taimon you do look cold," James interjected. "Let me go turn up the heat." He left the room.
Miss Taimon's eyes darted at the door that the people had left through.
Mr Gardiner got up and begun looking around the room. "I should start writing all this down." He ruffled through the draws. "There must be a leaf of paper somewhere…" His hand picked up a musty photo. "What's this?" He stopped and turned slowly, finding the tip of a gun before his face.
"You've done your searching sir, now it's time for the answer," Miss Taimon spoke slowly.
The old man looked down at the photo in his hand. He recognised the four people easily, the four people that had just left the room. "You're not in it?"
"Someone had to take it. You see Mr Gardiner, what you're looking at is a family photo. There you see Mrs Couter, with her three children; Anna, Mark and John. I knew you wouldn't recognise them, but you didn't even notice Mrs Couter now. I'm only their cousin, so I was the one that took it." She smiled. "They're all wusses, too afraid to be here now. They couldn't even bear looking at Mr X."
"Why did he die?" The old man asked.
"Oh he was in the way. He wasn't meant to turn up till later today and we couldn't wait." She said it all as if it did not matter."
Mr Gardiner's eyes were on the photo again. "Where's Mrs Couter's husband?"
This was where her smile grew. "You haven't realised yet? It's you."
The inhabitants of the house heard the gun shot. Each came to stare at the body of Mr Gardiner.
"He deserved it for leaving, he can't even remember us," Anna said.
The pretend host picked up the phone and dialled. "Hello, police. There's been two deaths at our guesthouse. One was a murder, and the other was of the murderer. He just admitted it and shot himself."
Smiles plagued all of their faces, as they listened to the lies, and watched the musty photo burn in the fire.