Saturday, April 02, 2005

Chapter 4

I had dressed and prepared a collection of video tapes for my presentation by the time Schwartz and Beverly had arrived back from their trip into town. I had a problem. Since I had begun the morning in a snit, and since I now needed Schwartz’s help, I needed a plan.

I’d decided that the best approach would be to calmly explain to Schwartz that I’d behaved the way I had only because I was feeling somewhat useless of late, and that when he had undermined my demonstration (albeit unintentionally) it had frustrated me even further. I would acknowledge that had I included him in my plan, we could probably have found a way to make both points simultaneously. Further, I would say, I realized that he also had the right to act on his own conscience, and that I was sorry I had over-reacted. I would then explain that I had found a new minor obsession to occupy my time and give me purpose, and that I would appreciate his assistance with it.

Soon, I heard the car pulling into the garage. I stood in waiting at the top of the steps as Schwartz and Beverly made their way up the stairwell from the basement carport. I pulled open the door when I heard their footfalls on the top landing, and cheerfully said, “Hello,” as I saw them round the corner. That was when the old saying about the best laid plans reared up and smacked me in the face as I realized that they had brought company, and that I was going to have to put my presentation on hold.

“Ms Hoskin, hello,” Schwartz said. “I see you’ve gotten over your tantrum. Excellent. I don’t believe you’ve met my old friend Ulric Devaki.”


I hadn’t yet met Rabbi Devaki, though I did know of him. He was a member of the Five Seekers, a discussion group in which Schwartz held membership. They met quarterly at one of the members’ homes to discuss one of five general topics; spirituality, theology, metaphysics, ethics, or philosophy. Schwartz was due to hold the next meeting where they would discuss philosophy, which was Schwartz’s committee (for lack of a better term.)

As host and chair, Schwartz had been responsible to arrange the menu and to invite an expert speaker. He’d already arranged for the guest, an electrical engineer and Iranian expatriate with an expertise on the life of Nikola Tesla. All that was left was to solidify a date and set the menu. That was why Devaki, the spirituality chair, had been invited that Sunday; he was going to help Schwartz pick a date and plan the meal.

The two men excused themselves into the study, and I was left alone with Beverly and a stupefied expression. “What’s the matter, dear?” Beverly asked.

“Nothing,” I said rolling with the punch. “Beverly, would you join me in the den?”

I slid shut behind us the large oak panels that closed off the den. “You know Schwartz better than I do,” I said. “Do you think he has any interest in who killed Myron Lefkowitz? You know, like a professional interest.”

“I really don’t think so,” Beverly said.

“Do you think he might if he knew that they were offering a one-hundred-thousand dollar reward to anybody who can determine how Myron managed to ingest the pokeweed?”

“One-hundred-thousand dollars?” Beverly said. “That might do it, but only if it was a murder. He won’t care to investigate the speculation that it was a suicide or an accident.”

“Oh, it was murder,” I said. “I can prove that. Here, let me show you.” I pushed the play button, and the blue-screen came alive. I had cued a taped program from earlier in the season to footage of one of the games. The players were assembled and had just been given their instructions. “Do you remember this game?” I asked Beverly. “It was the egg hunt. They had to find ten out of twenty eggs to build the pot by thirty-thousand dollars. Once they’d found ten eggs, each egg after that was worth ten thousand dollars more for the pot. Each egg had a clue underneath it to the position of the next egg.”

“I remember,” Beverly said. “It was the game where you decided that Brad was the overlord.”

“Right,” I said, “because when it was his turn to follow the clue to the next egg, he completely misread the information, but he misread it in a way that led him to a particular egg; the egg that should have been Myron’s.”

I started the tape, and the ten players who were still in the game at that time each pulled a number from a pot to see in what order they would line up. Seth drew number one followed by Charles and then Brad, Gwen, Myron, Julia, Trish, Lance, Candace and Peter in that order. I paused the tape. “Those are our suspects,” I said. “Well, all except for Trish, since she was eliminated that Friday.” I restarted the tape, and Seth was handed the clue to his first egg.

“I before E,” he read, “Except after C, or when sounding like A as in neighbor and ...” The clue trailed off, Seth looked up to Dale and inquiring asked “Weigh?”

“So where’s your egg?” Dale asked as the camera panned the open area of field at the center of the compound displaying the clutter assembled on the lawn. A bird-bath, some gnomes and gargoyles, a globe, a bicycle, a tipped-over wheel barrow, a scales, a glass unicorn, a miniature windmill, a shepherd’s hook with hanging plants, a replica of the Empire State Building, a miniature sphinx, a concrete bench, a section of wrought iron fence, a sundial, a red wagon, a plaster frog, a small dog-house, a butter churn, and a hollow log.

“The scales?” Seth asked, but of course, Dale gave no answer and the others were forbidden to lend any assistance. Seth ran across the yard to the scales and found his egg placed snugly against its base in the grass. He brought the egg back to the group and handed it to Charles who read the clue that was written on it.

“The shadows of time,” he read, and he gazed out into the collection of mismatched lawn ornamentation. As he studied the collection, Dale Martin announced a few twists to the game that had been held back to this point.

“One thing you should know is that eventually, the clues will begin to get harder,” he said. “Another thing you should know is that as players make mistakes and choose the wrong eggs, those more difficult clues may be brought in earlier. Also, if you get a clue to an egg that has already mistakenly been selected, you cannot go back to that egg. You must select another incorrect egg. However, so long as you find the correct clue based on the egg you have been given, that egg will count. One more thing, at the end of the trail of eggs is a game-over egg. If anybody finds the egg that says, game over before finding all of the other eggs, we stop and any remaining money from the potential $130,000 for the pot will go to the overlord’s kitty.”

Charles started out into the field for his egg. He made a bee-line for the sundial and brought his egg back to Brad who read, “To find one is lucky, though one would be unique.” He looked up with a smile on his face and said, “Easy. A leprechaun,” which would have been a good guess, except that there was no leprechaun in the collection. He should have gone to the unicorn. Charles ran up to the gnome and brought his egg back to Gwen who had a look of bewilderment on her face.

She shrugged and read her clue. “What animal walks on four legs in the morning, two at midday and three at dusk?” Recognizing this as the riddle of the sphinx, she marched out directly to her target and retrieved her egg, bringing it straight back to Myron who wore the same bewildered expression we’d seen moments prior on Gwen. Apparently, he thought she had gotten it wrong.

He took his egg and read, “Give me land lots of land under starry skies above.” After reading, the bewildered expression was even worse than it had been before. Finally, he noticed the globe and approached it, obviously not realizing that these were the lyrics to the song Don’t Fence Me In and therefore a clear clue to the wrought iron fence. He retrieved his egg and brought it back to his teammate, Julia.

Her clue; In scuba it comes before man, in restaurants it comes before legs, and in fairy tales it comes before prince; left her dumbfounded. Finally, she threw up her arms and walked out to the unicorn, apparently only able to focus on the fairy tale aspect of her clue.

Trish received her clue; What a baseball brawl clears; and either she knew nothing of baseball terminology or she had no idea what a brawl was or she was the overlord. She walked past the bench and brought back the clue from the wrought iron fence.

She brought her incorrect egg back to Lance, who read his clue; You dirty bird; and he headed directly for the birdbath and brought his egg back to Candace, who was given the clue, “As the world turns,” an obvious reference to the globe. Unfortunately for Candace, the globe egg had already been selected incorrectly by Myron.

At this point, the best option for Candace would have been to retrieve the egg from the wrought iron fence or from the frog, since both of the clues for these items had been read and the items had been left. However, this was not what she chose to do. Perhaps she was trying to misdirect some suspicion her way; perhaps she misunderstood the rules and thought those items were now off limits; or perhaps she hadn’t understood the clues that had baffled Julia and Myron either. Whatever her motive, she went to the closest object, the bicycle, and bought Peter an egg.

Peter’s clue; I’ll paint yours if you’ll paint mine; seemed a little odd to him at first. Slowly he took mental inventory of each of the assembled items, and calculated which this might be. Eventually, it would seem that the phrase “I’ll paint your little red wagon,” must have found it’s way out of the deep part of his psyche where it lay buried, and he collected his egg from the Red Flyer.

I recalled that when we had first watched the episode, this was part of the reason that Beverly had selected Peter as her choice for overlord. She had reasoned that he had no real reason to delay, except that he was trying to decide if not getting this clue would be too suggestive to the group that he was overlord.

The game had now reached the halfway point. Dale stepped in to retrieve the egg, and he made an offer to the group. “At this point you have collected ten eggs,” he said. “This game is worth a total of one-hundred-thirty-thousand dollars. If you believe that all of the selections are correct, we can stop here and add all of the money to the pot. However, if you stop here, and if you do not have ten eggs correct, you will receive only three thousand dollars for each correct egg. Simple majority rules. It only takes six yes votes to stop the game.” He then took a vote, but got a unanimous no vote from the players. Everybody knew that at least one player had made an error, so the game resumed.

Dale handed the egg he held to Seth, who read aloud, “A clue as easy as falling off of one.” He looked out at the field and walked straight up to the log.

Charles read his clue; “Cathedral guards.” He walked directly out to the gargoyles and retrieved his egg.

Brad received his second egg while scratching his head. It seems he didn’t understand Charles’ clue. His own egg read, “A Quixotic dragon.” He scratched his head again, apparently not much of a student of Cervantes, he didn’t seem to realize that the clue referred to the windmill. He shrugged and walked out to the frog and retrieved an egg.

Gwen then was given the clue; A crook for Bo Peep. At first she shrugged, seeming befuddled by the clue. Then recognition dawned and she said, “Oh, the shepherd’s hook,” and she walked out to the field and retrieved an egg from the hanging plant that gently swayed from the crook which was impaled in the ground.

Gwen handed her egg to Myron, who read, “A childhood hand and foot race.” Again, he had no idea what the clue meant. He looked out into the yard, and there he spotted the bicycle lying in the farthest corner. He scratched his head and scrunched his face. Finally he turned to Dale and said, “I think it’s the fence, you know like seeing who can climb a fence the fastest, but I can’t go over there.”

“Why not?” Dale asked.

“Well, I didn’t want to say anything, but I recognize that corner of the yard from last season. It’s the corner where the thicket was.” He was referring to an area of thick overgrowth that some of the contestants had used the previous year to try to “discuss strategy” (or so they claimed) out of view of the cameras. Unfortunately, they had also all come down with plant induced dermatitis. “Well, I don’t want to catch poison ivy,” Myron said. “Well, I have sensitive skin.”

I paused the tape. “There it is,” I said pointing to the screen. “He couldn’t have accidentally gotten hold of the pokeweed. See there. That’s the pokeweed growing back in that corner next to the section of fence.” I had indicated what looked like a small bunch of black grapes growing between the slats on the nearby fence.

Beverly approached the set. “I think you’re right,” she said.

“I am right,” I said. “I contacted Foyer, our entertainment writer. He has schematics of the set, and he confirms that the corner where the thicket was last year is the corner where the pokeweed is growing this year. Between seasons, the production company cleared out most of the brush, but they left some at the edges as set dressing.”

I started the tape again, picking up where it had left off. “We’ve cleared out all of the poison ivy,” Dale said. “It’s perfectly safe.”

“Wait,” Myron said, “Childhood hand and foot race? Well, that’s not a climbing race. It’s a wheelbarrow race.” He ran out to the overturned cart, and returned with the correct egg.

Julia received her clue; Snoopy’s Sopwith Camel. “I don’t get it,” she said.

She stood gazing at Dale Martin, who eventually said, “You have to pick one.” She shrugged and walked out to the butter churn, not the doghouse which would have been the correct guess, returning with an egg for Trish.

Shaking her head, Trish read her clue aloud, “‘Twas beauty killed the beast.” She started into the field and stopped. She turned around and counted the people standing in line behind her. Doing some quick math in her head, she knew that it was a clue to the Empire State Building model, but she also realized that the odds were good that she was being sent to the stopper, since she knew that Julia had selected the wrong lawn ornament. She altered her trajectory, and went to the doghouse to retrieve her egg. At least that was how she described it later in the confessional. It would have made her look suspicious as the overlord, except that she was eliminated in “the test” later that same week.

Lance accepted his clue; “The side of the bread that always lands down,” and realized immediately that it referred to the butter churn which had already been eliminated. Disgust on his face, he looked out into the field at the three remaining objects and realized immediately that the game was already over. The clues for the left-over items had all already been read. With hostility in his gate and disappointment on his shoulders, he retrieved the egg from the scaled down Empire State building.

Candace accepted her clue: “According to Queen, all I want to do is...”

She looked out to the field at the two remaining egg sites, the windmill, and the concrete bench. One of these held the stopper, the other held a clue, but it mattered little since neither one could add any money to the pot, the bicycle had already been guessed, and that was the answer to her clue. She located the egg at the bench.

Peter read his clue; Sounds like a city in Alaska, and even though he knew it was the gnome, he had no choice but to make a wrong pick and find the stopper. With just the windmill remaining, he made the game ending selection just as the game would have ended anyway. Dale Martin announced the final tally. The players had correctly deciphered eleven of the twenty possible clues meaning that they had added only forty-thousand out of a potential one-hundred-thirty-thousand dollars. The overlord’s pot, on the other hand, had gained ninety-thousand dollars.

I stopped the tape, and said to Beverly, “Okay, here’s the thing. Brad made the first mistake, and it was an obvious error. I don’t believe that he actually thought the gnome was a leprechaun. He selected the gnome on purpose, because he knew that the gnome led to the sphinx, and that the sphinx led to the fence. He wanted to force Myron to go out near the fence because the fence was practically in the pokeweed. He wanted to establish an opportunity where Myron might have gotten hold of some of the poison.”

Continue to Chapter 5