Saturday, April 02, 2005

Chapter 6

My face was warm. I hated it when I had that feeling. It was a mixture of excitement and embarrassment with a little bit of confusion thrown into the mix. Ulric Devaki -- Rabbi Ulric Devaki had a crush on me, and I didn’t know how I felt about it. On the one hand it was flattering. He was intelligent and handsome and very respectable. On the other hand, he was close to twenty years older than me, he was Schwartz’s best friend, and we had nothing in common other than a love of some stupid reality show. Call me crazy, but I didn’t see a future in it.

Besides, he wasn’t my type. Not that I knew what my type was, but I was pretty sure that fifty-ish Baltic-born experts on the Kabalah weren’t it. My husband had been a cheating, lying investigative journalist, and my last two romantic interests since my divorce had been with cops, so if I had a type it was probably something a little more danger oriented. Which -- if I was a psychologist -- I would say probably indicated that I was trying to replace my father, who had been a private detective killed along with my mother while trying to rescue a damsel in distress.

Still, there was something titillating about Devaki. Somehow (and I had no idea how) he had that same air of danger. One might even call it a Sean Connery/Bond-like quality; only with a Yiddish brogue rather than an Irish one. He seemed like he had secrets, a man of mystery and intrigue, and I wanted to know what those secrets were. It was something I’d inherited from my dad. If I was confronted with a puzzle, I had to know the resolution. That was why I had been so easily lured into this new life assisting Schwartz. He was the best puzzle-solver on the planet, and eventually, I was going to solve something before he did. I wouldn’t be happy until the pupil had surpassed the teacher.

Which was why I was watching that damned video tape again for the sixth time. I still hadn’t seen what Schwartz had seen. I’d been so sure that I was on to something when I was talking to Ulric. Schwartz had clearly implied that somebody on the show had a tell that had given them away, some kind of unconscious tick that exposed their guilt. So that was what I was watching for. A few times, I thought I’d maybe spotted it. Seth had put his hand behind his neck every time he had to think, Trish pointed confidently to her targets before starting for them as if she was cueing the camera man, and Gwen was a shrugger; but Seth’s neck rub and Gwen’s shrug were explainable otherwise as just nerves, and Trish (once again) could be discarded since she had been dismissed from the compound before the murder had even taken place.

I was about to give up, when I had a thought. The tell didn’t have to be a physical tick. It could be a verbal tick. Maybe one of the contestants had a telling turn-of-phrase which had exposed him or her to Schwartz.

On the seventh viewing, as I concentrated on spoken idiosyncrasies, I observed a few little things I had never noticed before. For one thing, Myron used the word “well” a lot. But since he was the victim, I doubted that was it. I also noticed that Dale Martin punched odd words when he was reciting the rules to the game. For example, when he said “One thing you should know is that eventually, the clues will begin to get harder,” he could have punched any number of words; know, eventually, will or begin would have all been reasonable choices, but Martin punched the words thing and to. However, Dale Martin was nowhere near Myron when he was eating that fatal meal. In fact, he wasn’t even on the set at meal time. It could hardly have been him who did Myron in. As for the rest of the tape, it didn’t give the contestants much opportunity to reveal verbal tells. All that they got to do was read clues and walk out into the field to pick an object while the other contestants had to remain silent so as not to give assistance. Finally the game ended, and I was about to hit the stop button to rewind for an eighth viewing when the previews began. Suddenly, it dawned on me that Schwartz had seen the previews play before he announced that he’d concluded from the tape that it had indeed been a murder. Maybe the tell was on the previews.


“Next week on Overlord,” the narrator read in that cheesy announcer voice designed to make drama of a sow’s ear, while on the screen the image of the Overlord logo flashed in fast-edit to an image of Myron and Gwen at pool-side. “You’re a pig,” Candace was heard to say. “Will tensions between Myron and his housemates continue?” the announcer asked both rhetorically and (as it turned out) ironically.

The scene rapidly changed to Lance and Charles in the bathroom brushing their teeth and mumbling to one another. “Will the growing cross-team alliance of Lance and Charles remain strong?” the announcer wondered for us.

“I don’t trust you any further than I can spit,” Charles said as he allowed a gob of foamy spew to plop into the sink. “For all I know, you’re the overlord.”

Another fast-edit took us to the kitchen where Seth was romancing Julia with his too-obvious charms. “You’re not too thin,” he was saying, “I personally prefer a skinny girl.” Then as we got a demure reaction shot of Julia, the announcer asked, “And will Seth’s duplicity be exposed?” The shot shifted to a picture from earlier in the season of Seth kissing Trish before she had been eliminated. “You’re not too heavy,” he was saying, “I personally prefer a girl with a little meat to her.” Again the shot cut to Seth in the “confessional.” “I don’t care if one of them is the overlord,” Seth told the camera leaning forward making his advancing forehead even more prominent. “I’m having fun.”

The next question from the narrator was about Gwen. “Will Gwen’s scheming be uncovered?” he asked as we saw several shots of her talking with a variety of the contestants, each time with her hand raised as if making an oath. “I swear to you,” she said to Myron. “You have my word on it,” she said to Candace. “My right hand to God,” she told Charles. “I’m not the overlord” ... “not the overlord” ... “not the overlord,” she said to Lance then Peter then Brad.

That’s it -- I thought. That was Gwen’s tell. Schwartz -- I concluded -- thought Gwen was the killer because she had the ability to lie to anyone’s face. I confidently hit the stop button on the remote as the picture shifted to a wide shot of the compound and the announcer suggested that the answers to these and other questions would be learned on the next episode of Overlord.


“I don’t think that’s it,” Beverly said. Our guest had gone, and Schwartz had retired to his room before I had dragged her into the study to see my latest “discovery.”

“Why not?” I asked incredulously?

“Because proving that Gwen is sneaky doesn’t necessarily make her a killer, and Lupa would not investigate unless he was sure that it was murder.”

I stood silent for a moment, “You’ve got a point
there,” I said.

“Unless,” she said trailing off.


“Unless maybe Gwen’s tell somehow combined with one of the other scenes from the preview gave something away.”

I thought about that a moment. It made sense. If two of the scenes or three or all of the scenes were viewed as a whole, maybe somehow that was the clue Lupa had seen. It seemed like an odd coincidence if it were true. What were the chances that the producers would choose just the combination of scenes to edit into the preview that would tell Schwartz who the killer was? Still, it was worth a second -- or in this case tenth -- look.

As I watched the preview again with this new mindset, it didn’t really seem as likely at all. All of the scenes had been specifically chosen because they were particularly denotative of the characteristics they’d wanted to highlight. On these shows, they short-handed actual nuanced personalities into caricatures. Myron had been the villain, Lance and Charles were the chums who couldn’t trust each other, Seth was the cad, and Gwen was the schemer. Surely Schwartz wouldn’t have been taken in by such simplistic dramatic manipulation. It had to be the preview taken as a whole.

So I tried to view it in the abstract. Logo, fast edit. Myron and Gwen at pool-side. “You’re a pig,” Voice-over. “Will tensions between Myron and his housemates continue?” New scene. Brushing teeth. Voice over. “Will the growing cross-team alliance of Lance and Charles remain strong?” “I don’t trust you any further than I can spit.” Slobber hits the sink. “For all I know, you’re the overlord.” To the kitchen. “You’re not too thin. I personally prefer a skinny girl.” Julia demures. Voice over. “And will Seth’s duplicity be exposed?” Seth kissing Trish. “You’re not too heavy. I personally prefer a girl with a little meat to her.” Cut to the “confessional.” “I don’t care if one of them is the overlord. I’m having fun.” Voice over. “Will Gwen’s scheming be uncovered?” “I swear to you ... edit ... You have my word on it... edit ... My right hand to God ... edit ... I’m not the overlord ... not the overlord ... not the overlord.” Wide-shot of the compound. Voice over. “The answers to these and other questions will be learned on the next episode of Overlord.” Dissolve to logo. Chyron reads, “Next time on Overlord.”

Yeah, that was helpful.


I lay in bed that night still certain that I was on to something. There had to be something in that promo that had given Schwartz his clue. I had noticed that all of the suspects from the show were in the promo, but not all of them had spoken. Perhaps a few house-mates could be eliminated from the list by virtue of a conspicuous lack of opportunity to be noted by Schwartz.

The promo first featured Myron and Candace, then Charles and Lance, Seth and Julia and Trish, and finally Gwen with Myron, Candace, Charles, Lance, Peter and Brad. Candace had spoken to Myron, so she would still be suspect. Julia hadn’t spoken, but Seth had. Charles spoke and spit while Lance merely brushed. And finally, everyone in the scenes with Gwen had simply listened to her pontificate and lie. So if it was a spoken tell, then the only suspects were Candace, Seth, Charles and Gwen. That would certainly make it easier. I cuddled up to my pillow content to sleep knowing that I had narrowed my search for a killer to a short-list of four suspects.

But soon I was sitting bolt upright again. That wasn’t it. I had seen the promo several times and knew it inside and out. Schwartz had only seen it once. And normally, one viewing would have been enough for Schwartz to have picked up on a verbal tell from a suspect, but this time there was a problem. The one time that Schwartz had seen the promo was after I had shown him the contest video, and as I spoke with Devaki about my theory that Brad was the killer. Not that Schwartz couldn’t have heard our conversation and still picked up on the verbal tell, but not in this particular case.

I had muted the sound.


I had to watch the promo again. This time with the sound off. The tell was visual, not verbal. I had been going in the wrong direction all together. So, at two in the morning, I was alone in the dark study again; television glowing, VCR buzzing, and remote control clicking. It was getting a little frustrating, but I couldn’t give up. I had to figure this out before Schwartz collected his reward. Not that I begrudged him his money. I didn’t. I begrudged him his satisfied smirk.

The image of the Overlord logo flashed in fast-edit to an image of Myron and Gwen at pool-side. Candace stood over Myron who lounged on a chase. Her arm bent back behind her pointing awkwardly skyward. She was obviously disgusted with him, and he looked smug over it. The scene rapidly changed to Lance and Charles in the bathroom brushing their teeth and conversing conspiratorially -- which was obvious from their body language. They never faced each other, and Lance’s eyes darted toward where he knew the camera to be several times. The camera angle shifted to a close shot of the sink as Charles allowed a gob of foamy spew to plop. Charles looked directly at Lance for the first time and spoke. Another fast-edit to the kitchen with Seth and Julia standing near the cupboards; him lording over her, his arm outstretched and his hand propping his weight. He spoke to her, and she dropped her gaze bashfully. The shot shifted. Seth kissing Trish filled the screen. He spoke to her with his hands holding her shoulders, and she dropped her gaze bashfully. A new shot of Seth leaning forward toward the camera in the confessional. He was talking to the camera, a cocky conceited grin on his face. Next we saw Gwen talking to Myron in the entry. Her hand was raised and bobbing as she made him a promise. Then Gwen in the same pose, only this time with Candace listening intently with her gaze fixed firmly on Gwen. Then the same pose again, with Charles in the yard near the workout equipment. Charles seemed less than impressed. Next, the same pose, only Gwen was kneeling next to Lance as he soaked in the hot-tub. His eyes were closed, so he didn’t even see the raised hand. Then Peter in the master bedroom, they sat next to one another on the mattress, their feet firm on the floor. And finally, Brad and Gwen across from each other at the dining table. Brad was shaking his head. Finally, a wide shot of the compound showing the front of the house, the attached over-sized garage which was the technical hub of the show just visible on the right side of the screen. And a slow dissolve to the Overlord logo with chyron.

So that was it. Something in that had told Schwartz who the killer was, and I was back to where I had started. The only tell I could decipher from that was that Gwen made promises to a lot of people; including Myron. But that didn’t make her a killer.

Or did it?

Continue to Chapter 7