Christmas Eve, 1936
Who was it that coldly and maliciously murdered Miss Winters in the foyer with the candlestick or Mr. Hudgins in the drawing room with the pointy-end of the racing trophy?
No one would be certain until Moneymaker did a very thorough investigation.
So far, no one had a clue as to who had done the deeds.
Two Weeks Earlier
Charles Moneymaker and his friend and associate, James Reading, were comfortable in front of the fire. The cold, blustery weather outside of their Philadelphia location was nothing more than an occasional slam of evergreen against a tightly-closed window shutter.
Moneymaker had bought the creaking, old mansion twenty years ago, just before his beloved wife, Valentina, died.
James Reading, of the railroad Readings of Pennsylvania, had lived in the east wing of the mansion for the last three years. As a lawyer, he had represented Moneymaker for over ten years.
Since they also shared a love of mystery, he had often assisted Moneymaker in solving crimes that stumped the most-accredited detectives on even major U.S. and foreign police forces.
In his spare time, such as it was, James wrote murder novels—not so much from his own imagination but from the cases they worked together.
Moneymaker was wealthy with a capital “W” and bored easily. Detective work was a game that he enjoyed. Then there was the ineptness of many a police force, a great disappointment and yet a never-ending source of disappointment—and, at times, amusement—to him.
As Moneymaker busied himself reading the Saturday newspaper, James jolted when the housekeeper entered the room. She had done this so quietly that neither man had heard her approach.
James disliked the boney creature, but it was Moneymaker’s home and James knew he would have to adjust, or at least pretend to do so. Agnes Stern was a cantankerous, boney-assed, dislikable woman, as far as James was concerned. He’d never understand why Moneymaker seemed to delight in having her around. “A balance, my good man,” was all he would ever say.
“Ah, Mrs. Stern, mail time already?” Moneymaker looked at his gold pocket watch and then returned it to the breast pocket of his black suit coat.
“My, how time flies.” He reached out his hand, and the housekeeper placed the small stack of white envelopes into it. This was a daily ritual for the pair.
Mrs. Stern disappeared from the room as silently as she had arrived. James felt a shiver run down his back.
Moneymaker caught the pinched expression on James’s face in reaction to Mrs. Stern’s brief presence, and a deep belly laugh came from the just slightly rotund man.
“Really, James. She’s quite harmless. Don’t understand why she gets under your skin so!”
He merely grinned at the quietly-muttered oath from James, and then he returned his attention to the incoming mail. As was his habit, Moneymaker carefully inspected each of the envelopes one at a time. He separated the important items from the ones that would go into the wastebasket, unopened.
“Well, well,” he mused, as he came to the heavy, white linen paper of the envelope displaying the return address of Marvin Cosgrove’s estate—The Gardens.
“What’s that?” James asked.
“An invitation from dear, old Cosgrove,” Moneymaker responded. He carefully used the letter opener to slice a neat opening on the edge of the envelope. Then, just as carefully, he removed the folded linen card from the envelope and read the information inside.
“I say! Cos is having a Christmas gathering at the Boston house. He’s asked us to attend.”
James grimaced just slightly. He wasn’t usually an unsociable sort, but today it seemed everyone but Moneymaker was on his bad side. Perhaps all his least favorites were in the picture today and none of them would be tomorrow. Realizing he was being quite silly, he decided he’d just chalk it up to the weather.
“I know, James. Old Cos isn’t your favorite person, but he really is a well-intended fellow. I feel I must add that his cook, Mrs. Plum, is quite superior. She puts together a holiday meal that cannot be challenged in the best houses of Europe.”
“Hum,” was the only sound that came from James, as he pretended to pay little attention. He wasn’t going to admit the joy it would give him to spend the holiday where he could get an excellent meal without the piercing eyes of Mrs. Stern following his every move.
“Come on, old boy! It will be a lark. Just getting there in this weather will be an adventure.”
Moneymaker’s enthusiasm was something that James never could resist. He had a way of lighting up most any dreary situation. James supposed it was one of the reasons he enjoyed spending so much time with the man. It certainly had been a factor in his decision to take the man up on his invitation to share the huge, rambling, old mansion.
“Well, I suppose it might be worth the effort.”
“Bravo, James. To Boston, we shall go!” Moneymaker laughed. He moved from in front of the fire to his desk, donned his monocle in his left eye, and immediately responded to the invitation.
The next week or so was spent in preparation for the trip. They would take the train—Reading had his own private car—to Boston where they would hire a car for the journey to the Cosgrove estate.
Moneymaker had instructed the driver to provide extra blankets just in case they ran into trouble on the roads. Mrs. Stern prepared a basket of food for the journey. She saw this as another safety factor.