Sunday, April 03, 2005

Chapter 8

I couldn’t bring myself to watch that damn video one more time. I had watched it to see who had a verbal tell, then to see who had a tick, then to see if the promo watched as a unit had given a clue to who could be the killer, and now I was watching to see if the apparatus of the murder was exposed in the promo’s fast cutaways and edited fades. Nothing. I got nada.

The problem is that it was a locked-door-mystery. Whoever had done this, had masterfully conceived of a way to pull off a murder in plain sight and then leave him or her self no way of escape knowing that they had a built in alibi. We had been watching their every move. We’d have seen whatever they did.

Or had we? Lance and Charles seemed to have developed a non-verbal manner of communicating. Is it possible that together they had met up before going onto the set, and that together they had devised a scheme through which they’d acted in tandem to each do a little piece of the murder? They weren’t supposed to know each other before meeting on the set, but maybe they had met secretly before taping began. If so, that would have been something that Schwartz might have gleaned from the promo.

So how would that work -- I wondered. One of them would have to collect some of the poison from the garden. Or would they? If they had colluded before the show premiered, why couldn’t they have thought to bring in the poison with them? But how would they know that there would be pokeweed on the set? It was a dilemma. Maybe that had simply been a happy accident. Or maybe one of them had an in with the production staff. Yes! That made sense.

One of the two men, Charles or Lance, might have had an accomplice in the production staff. Through this mole, perhaps -- I postulated -- one or the other had learned of the pokeweed on the set and had schemed with this partner before production even began.

Of course this created even more difficulties. For one, why would they scheme to kill a fellow contestant before they had even met him? What possible motive could there be for that? The thrill maybe, but it seemed far-fetched. Additionally, why bring in a partner? Why not just do the killing alone? Unless, the contestant with the connection to the production staff had wanted some insulation in case that connection had been discovered. If he had given the plan over to a third party, and if it was discovered that he had ties to the show’s staff, it would be better if he could show on tape that he had never been anywhere near Myron’s plate.

Which gave me another idea. If I was right ... if either Charles or Lance had a way of secreting info from the production team, then it would mean that the other had dosed Myron. And if one of the two had a connection to the staff, it probably meant that he was the overlord. And if he was the overlord, then the other knew it and would probably benefit by being the finalist, and the two would have agreed to spilt the final pot no matter what the outcome. Furthermore, if Myron had figured out who the overlord was, this might have been a potential chink in their scheme. Perhaps, they had brought in the poison along with this scheme in case of this potentiality. Eureka! I had a theory.


“Foyer here,” the voice on my cell said.

“Foyer, hey. It’s Cat Hoskin,” I informed the entertainment writer for Gamut magazine. “Are you covering this Overlord story?”

“Yeah, sort of,” he said. “There’s going to be a press conference before the show starts tomorrow night, and I’ll be in the pool,” he said referring to the press pool.

“Do you know anybody inside the production office that you can trust?”

“I haven’t been at this job long enough to build up any major friendships,” he noted. “I know a few of the guys by name. That’s about it. Why?”

“Well,” I said coyly, “I have a little theory about what might have happened, and I was hoping to get a little assist from the man who owes his cushy new job to me. In case you’re wondering, that would be you.”

“Yeah, thanks for not lording that over me too much,” he said in a voice stout with sarcasm; which was his usual tone anyway, so I just let it pass. After all, the man had been a professional critic for years. “What is it you wanted me to do exactly, master?”

“That’s mistress,” I corrected him.

“You wish.”

“Whatever,” I said, a chill at the thought running down my spine. “What I want is for you to find out for me how the production staff slips information to the overlord, and how the overlord is chosen, and how his or her identity is kept secret from the public and anyone on the staff who isn’t in a need to know position.”

“Ahh,” Foyer said. “Well as it happens, I can do all of that without even making a call to the production company.” He was gloating. “Before the season began, they shipped a media kit that explains all of that in excruciating detail. It’s actually come in very handy for many of the press people covering this season. You already know about the schematics of the compound, but there’s also biographical info on the contestants and the host as well as nearly all of the background on the history of the show.”

“Do they always send that much stuff for an established program?” I asked.

“How should I know? This is my first season as entertainment editor. But if you want my opinion, I’d wager dollars to donuts that they did it because the network was having a slow season otherwise, and the bigwigs were pressing deMarc to have a larger than usual season so that Overlord could be a bigger draw for their otherwise lackluster schedule. Have you seen any of the crap that they’ve put on in the nine PM time slots on Friday and Wednesdays following ...”

“No,” I interrupted. “I have better things to do with my time than see what comes on next.”

“Really?” Foyer said. “That’s not what I hear. Rumor has it you aren’t producing diddly.”

“You can’t always believe what you hear.” I said. “Hey, wait. What do you hear exactly? Who are you talking to about my situation anyway?”

“Everybody here at the magazine is talking about it,” Foyer said. “The scuttle is that Schwartz is losing his edge, and the publisher is thinking of pulling your commission and bringing you back to Cleveland. Hey look, I gotta motor. I have an early flight to catch to LA for that press conference tomorrow.”


“It’s true,” Jana said. Jana was my best friend in the office at Gamut’s headquarters. I had called her to get that media kit faxed over to me and to find out if the rumor Foyer was kiting had any basis on the ground. If anyone would know, Jana would. “The publishers had a meeting and decided that you were being wasted in Pittsburgh. They’re thinking that either they should cut you loose to freelance or pull you back to Cleveland.”

“But, I’m earning my paycheck,” I said. “I’m editing ...”

“They let you do that as a favor,” Jana said. “They can hire an in-house editor for a lot less than they pay you to do it long distance. And they feel that they’d have more control over an in-house editor.” Jana sighed. “It’s a bad situation. They want to keep you writing about Schwartz, but only if he’s producing. So far, you haven’t even thrown them anything to reject as too boring.”

“Well, that’s about to change,” I said.

“You’ve got something too boring for them?” Jana asked in a playfully smug tone.

“No, something good. I’ve got the solution to the Overlord case.”

“Schwartz has that one figured out?” Jana said excitedly.

“I think so,” I said, “but I think that maybe I’m on to a little more even than he is.”

“Wait,” Jana said. “Are you saying that you have the case solved personally?”

“I think maybe I do,” I said using my own smug tone, only not as playful.

“Well, how does that help?” Jana asked.

“I think that Schwartz feels he has who the killer is all worked out, but he doesn’t know how to prove it, or he would have said something about that by now. I have a plan for the whole enchilada.”

“And is that how you plan to write the piece? That you outsmarted the great Lupa Schwartz?” Jana asked.

“Well, why not?” I demanded.

“Because they would never want to publish it,” Jana said. “That’s why. You’re not supposed to be the story. He is.”


I was downloading the faxed copy of the media kit on the personal computer in my bedroom thinking about what Jana had said. She was right. I wasn’t supposed to be the story. Not that I couldn’t write a story about how I had outfoxed the great detective, but if I did it would be the last story I ever wrote about him. And the truth was that I liked it here. I enjoyed having a mother figure in Beverly and a sister-like relationship with Mia. I enjoyed the excitement of the investigations and learning about Schwartz’s peculiarities and peccadilloes. I liked the new and fascinating world of intellectuals and rogues that I had been tossed into.

In Cleveland, all of the people I knew were interested in only one thing, finding and writing the next big story. It was competitive and cutthroat. Here, I was free to compete with Schwartz to figure out the mystery before he revealed it, but I always knew that he was a jump ahead of me; and that was somehow oddly comforting. Plus here, the object wasn’t only to tell the story, but to help people. Schwartz had a code of justice that he lived by. He had designed and defined his own moral chivalric ethos. True, some of his ideas of right and wrong were a little eccentric, but that’s what made him so unique.

So even if I was able to use this package to solve all of the Ws of this case, what would it profit me? I’d have a great story to tell as I sat on the bus back to Cleveland. I couldn’t just write the stories of Schwartz’s adventures on a freelance basis. I couldn’t know when the next story would come along, and I had to be a regularly contributing member of the Schwartz household doing my part to earn my keep. Even though I knew that Schwartz would have allowed me to live there for free making payments to the household largess only when I sold a story, it wouldn’t feel right. I needed that regular paycheck and the satisfaction of a regular schedule.

So I’d have to let Schwartz solve this one without any help from me. Or would I? Suppose I was to tell Schwartz that I had gotten the media kit as background for after he solved the case. Suppose I then casually mentioned that the media kit explained how the overlord was given intelligence and guidance by the production staff. Suppose I then left the kit in plain sight where Schwartz could find it by accident. This way I could easily write up the account without ever mentioning that I had worked out the mystery beforehand.

I’d have to figure out exactly what I wanted to say before I approached him. To that end, I sat down with the printouts and considered my options.

The kit contained an exceptionally specific history of the show. It told how the producers had wanted to assure the integrity of their secret overlord right up until the reveal in the season finale. To that end, they had used a computer generated psychological profile to determine which of the contestants would be the best secret-keepers. In season one, they had simply taken the contestant who had scored the best on the profile and asked her to be the overlord. In season two, they had feared that if they had left it optional, the chosen would-be overlord might refuse preferring in stead to be one of the contestants, so they had had all of the auditioning wannabes sign a waiver stating that if approached, they would gladly accept the role. It turns out that this was an unnecessary precaution, because all of the wannabes wanted to be the overlord. It was a status thing. Also, the overlord had a fifty/fifty chance of winning compared to a one in sixteen shot for the contestants.

Come season three, the producers had a new fear. What if the results of the profiles were leaked? It would be a foregone conclusion who the overlord was. To remedy this, they took the top three profiles and randomly drew one to be the overlord, although they still were guarded about the results of the profiling. This created the added benefit that an even smaller circle of staffers would know who’s name had been ultimately chosen, but it did feed into my personal theory. What if -- I surmised -- a staffer who knew who the final three possible overlords were but who didn’t know who had been picked had gone to the three with his information. It would then give an even greater incentive to kill off the third player; one less unnecessary party to share the booty with. The only problem was that the producers actually only chose the overlord from the three names the day before taping began, and they kept the contestants sequestered under guard that night. However, ultimately, all this meant was that the three potential choices wouldn’t know which of them had been picked until they got together on the set, and it would necessitate them developing my theoretical secret unspoken code before they came to the show. So what at first seemed like a hitch actually benefited my theory.

The kit went on to explain that the confessional room had a panel that opened into the production room in the attached garage. The confessional was also the only room that didn’t have a live twenty-four hour Internet feed from its camera. Whatever happened in there was seen by the production staff, but the home audience only saw what the editors chose to show us. So it was in there that the overlord was told what to do each day. For this reason, all of the contestants were required to spend a set amount of time in the confessional every day, although they were allowed to -- and even encouraged to use the room whenever they wanted.

I supposed that it could have been in there that the pokeweed had been secretly exchanged Charles to Lance or vice versa.

Armed with this information, Schwartz could easily come to the same conclusion I had, and he could use it to figure out a way to prove his -- or should I say our hypothesis?

Continue to Chapter 9