Six suspects. Three hours. One murder…
Pip is not in the mood for her friend’s murder mystery party. Especially one that involves 1920’s fancy dress and pretending that their town is an island called Joy. But when the game begins, Pip finds herself drawn into the make-believe world of intrigue, deception and murder.
But as Pip plays detective, teasing out the identity of the killer clue-by-clue, the murder of the fictional Reginald Remy isn’t the only case on her mind …
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A smear of red across her thumb pressed into the hollows and spirals of her skin. Pip studied it like a maze. It could be blood, if she squinted. It wasn’t, but she could trick her eyes if she wanted to. It was Ruby Woo, the red lipstick her mom had insisted she wear to “complete the 1920s look.” Pip kept forgetting about it and accidentally touching her mouth: another smudge there on her little finger. Bloodstains everywhere, standing out against her pale skin.
They pulled up outside the Reynoldses’ house. Pip had always thought the house looked like a face, the windows staring down at her.
“We’re here, pickle,” her dad said needlessly from the front of the car. He turned to her, a wide smile on his face, creasing his black skin and the gray-flecked beard he was “trying out for summer,” much to her mom’s dismay. “Have fun. I’m sure it’ll be a night to die for.”
Pip groaned. How long had he been planning to say that? Zach, beside her, gave a polite laugh. Zach was her neighbor; the Chens lived four doors down from the Amobis, so Pip and Zach were always in and out of each other’s cars, getting rides to and back together. Pip had her own car now, since she’d turned seventeen, but it was in the shop this weekend. Almost like her dad had planned it so they’d have to suffer through his terrible murder-based jokes.
“Any more?” Pip said, wrapping the black feather boa around her arms, making them look even whiter. She opened the door, pausing to roll her eyes at him.
“Oh, if looks could kill,” her dad said with a little too much flair.
There was always one more. “OK, goodbye, Dad,” she said, stepping out, Zach mirroring her on the other side, thanking Mr. Amobi for the lift.
“Have fun,” Pip’s dad called. “You both look dressed to kill!”
And another. Annoyingly, Pip couldn’t help but laugh at that one.
“Oh, and, Pip,” her dad said, dropping the act, “Cara’s dad is giving you a lift back. If you get home before Mom and I are back from the movie, will you let the dog out?”
“Yes, yes.” She waved him off, walking up to the front door side by side with Zach. He looked slightly ridiculous, in a red blazer with navy stripes, crisp white pants, and a black bow tie, with a straw boater hat covering his straight dark hair. His little name badge read Ralph Remy.
“Ready, Ralph?” she asked, pressing the doorbell. And then again. She was impatient to get this over and done with. Sure, she hadn’t seen her friends all together in weeks, and maybe this would be fun. But she had work waiting for her at home, and fun, after all, was just a waste of time. Still, she could pretend well enough, and pretending wasn’t lying.
“After you, Celia Bourne.” Zach smiled, and she could tell he was excited. Maybe she’d have to pretend a little better, arranging a grin on her face too.
It was Connor who opened the door, except he didn’t exactly look like Connor Reynolds anymore. He’d put some kind of colored wax in his normally dark blond hair. It was now gray, and pasted neatly back from his face. There were brown wiggly face-paint lines around his eyes: a poor attempt at wrinkles. He was wearing a black tuxedoit had to have been borrowed from his dadand a matching white waistcoat and bow tie, with a napkin folded over one arm.
“Good evening.” Connor bowed low, some of his gray hair unsticking and flopping forward with him. “Welcome back to Remy Manor. I’m the butler, Humphrey Todd,” he said, emphasis on the “hump.”
There was a squeal as Lauren appeared in the hallway behind Connor. She was wearing a red flapper dress, the tassels on the hem skimming her knees. A bell-shaped hat hid most of her ginger hair, and there was a string of pearls wrapped around her neck, knocking against her Lizzie Remy badge. “Is that my husband?” she said excitedly, bounding forward and dragging poor Zach into the house after her.
“I see everyone’s already far too excited,” Pip said, following Connor down the hall.
“Ah, well, it’s good you’ve arrived to bring us all back down,” he teased her.
She widened her grin and pretended even harder.
“Your parents home?” she asked.
“No, they’re away for the weekend. And Jamie’s out. House to ourselves.”
Connor’s brother, Jamie, was six years older than them, but he’d been living at home ever since he dropped out of college. Pip remembered back when it happened, how thick the tension had been in the Reynoldses’ house, how they’d all learned to tiptoe around it. Now it was one of those not-talked-about topics.
They arrived in the kitchen, where Lauren had towed Zach and was now handing him a drink. Cara and Ant were there too, with matching glasses of red wine. An improvement on whatever concoctions they usually made from half-full bottles in unguarded drinks cabinets.
“’Ello, Madam Pip,” CaraPip’s best friendsaid in a terrible cockney accent, sidling forward to fiddle with Pip’s feather boa before letting it flop back against her garish emerald-green dress. Pip missed her normal overalls. “How fancy.”
“Thrift store,” Pip replied, taking in Cara’s costume. She was wearing a frumpy black dress with a long white cook’s apron, her dark blond hair covered by a gray bandanna. She had also gone for the face-paint-wrinkle look, slightly more subtle and effective than Connor’s. “How old is your character supposed to be?” Pip asked.
“Oh, ancient,” Cara said. “Fifty-six.”
“You look eighty-six.”
Ant snorted, and Pip turned to him finally. He might have looked the most outlandish of them all, dressed in a pin-striped suit that was far too baggy on his small frame, a glossy white tie, a black bowler hat, and a giant fake mustache stuck to his upper lip.
“To freedom and summer,” Ant said, holding up his wine for a moment before he took a sip. The mustache dipped into the liquid, droplets clinging to it as he re-emerged from the glass.
The “freedom” Ant meant was that they had all now finished their SATs; it was the end of June and the first time they’d all hung out like thisall six of themin a while, despite living in the same town and attending the same school.
“Well, yes,” said Pip, “except it’s not really summer, because we still have a month left of school. “Plus there’s college applications coming up, and we have to pick our topics for the senior capstone project soon.” OK, maybe she needed a little more practice pretending. She couldn’t help it; there’d been a twang of guilt in her chest as she left the house, reminding her that she really should have started work on that project today, even though she’d had her last exam only yesterday. Work breaks didn’t sit well with Pip Fitz-Amobi, and “freedom” didn’t feel very freeing.
“Oh my god, do you ever take a night off?” Lauren said, her eyes and thumbs down on her phone.
Ant jumped in. “We can give you some homework if that will make you feel better.”
“You’ve probably already picked your topic anyway,” Cara said, forgetting her accent.
“I haven’t,” Pip said. And that was the problem.
“Fuck,” Ant said in mock horror. “Are you OK? Do you need us to call an ambulance?”
Pip stuck her middle finger up at him and used it to flick his fluffy fake mustache.
“No one touches the mustache,” he said, backing away. “It’s sacred. And I’m scared you’ll pull out the real mustache underneath.”
“As if you could grow a real mustache.” Lauren snorted, eyes still down on her phone. She and Ant had had a very short-lived, doomed romance last year, which had amounted to approximately four drunken kisses. Now they were lucky if they could pry Lauren away from her current boyfriend, Tom, who was no doubt on the other end of that phone screen.
“Right, ladies and gentlemen.” Connor cleared his throat, grabbing another bottle of wine, and a Coke for Pip. “If you would all care to follow me into the dining room.”
“Even me, the ’umble cook?” Cara said.
“Even you.” Connor smiled, leading them across the hall toward the dining room at the back of the house. It was still there, that chip in the doorframe from when Connor had been skateboarding inside when they were twelve. Pip had told him not to at the time, but did anyone ever listen to her?
As Connor opened the door, the muffled squealing sounds from within became jazz music coming from the Alexa in the corner of the room. The dining table had been extended and covered with a white cloth crisscrossed with fold lines, and three long, thin candles flickered in the middle, dribbling red wax down their sides.
The places had already been set: plates, wineglasses, silverware, and linens all laid out, and a little place card on each plate. Pip’s eyes sought out Celia Bourne. She found her seat, between Dora KeyCaraand Humphrey ToddConnor, directly opposite Ant.
“What’s for dinner?” Zach said, holding his empty plate as he took his seat on the other side of the table.
“Oh yes,” Cara barged in. “What ’av Ithe cookmade for dinner, butler dear?”
Connor grinned. “I think tonight you probably ordered Domino’s after you realized that making dinner for this many people on top of hosting a murder mystery party was too much effort.”
“Ah, takeout pizza, my signature dish,” Cara said, rearranging her heavy dress so she could take her seat.
Pip settled down as well, her eyes falling to the small booklet to the right of her plate, which was printed with the title Kill Joy GamesMurder at Remy Manor. It had her game name on it too: Celia Bourne.
“No one touch their booklets yet,” Connor said, and Pip hastily withdrew her hand, rebuffed.
Connor stood in front of the wide windows. It was still light outside, although there was a strange pink-gray glow as heavy clouds rolled in to claim the evening. The wind was picking up too, making the trees at the end of the yard dance, howling between the gaps in the music.
“Right, first things first,” Connor announced, holding out a Tupperware box. “Hand over your phones.”
“Wait, what?!” Lauren looked disgusted.
“Yeah,” Connor said, shaking the box at Zach, who handed his phone over without a glance. “It’s 1924we wouldn’t have phones. And I want us all to concentrate on the game.”
Ant dropped his in. “Yeah,” he said, “because you’d just spend the whole time texting your boyfriend.”
“I would not!” Lauren protested, sullenly placing her phone in the box too.
The rest of them were quiet; they’d all been thinking the same. And in that silence Pip swore she heard something upstairs. Like the shuffle of footsteps. But no, it couldn’t be. They were home alone, Connor had said. She must have imagined it. Or maybe it was just the rattle of the wind.
Pip collected her and Cara’s phones and placed them in the plastic box.
“Thank you,” Connor said with a butler-esque bow. He took the Tupperware over to the sideboard at the back of the room and made a great show of placing the box inside a drawer, and then locking it with a small key. He then took the key and placed it on top of the radiator. Pip caught Lauren eyeing it.
“Right, so from now on, everyone has to stay in character,” Connor said, directing his words at a sniggering Ant.
“Yep, it’s me, Bobby,” Ant said. And then, wrapping his arm around Zach’s shoulder, he added: “Me and my bro.”
Pip surveyed them. So those were Celia Bourne’s cousins: Ralph and Bobby Remy. Ugh, spoiled brats.
“Very good, sir,” Connor responded. “But isn’t it peculiar that we are all gathered for a meal to celebrate Reginald Remy’s seventy-fourth birthday and he hasn’t turned up for dinner?” He paused and looked at them all pointedly.
“Yes, um, very peculiar,” Cara said.
“Very unlike my uncle,” added Pip.
Zach nodded. “Father is never late.”
Connor smiled, pleased with himself. “Well, he must be somewhere in the manor; we ought to go and look for him.”
They all watched him closely.
“I said we ought to go and look for him,” Connor repeated.
“Oh, like actually go look for him?” Lauren asked.
“Yes, he must be somewhere. Let’s split up and search.”
Pip jumped to her feet and filed out of the room with the others. Well, Reginald Remy had obviously just been murdered; it was a murder mystery game, after all. But what were they looking for exactly? A picture of the dead man or something?
They passed a closet in the hallway that had a piece of paper stuck to it, with the words Billiard Room written on it.
Zach pulled the closet doors open and peered inside. “He’s not in the billiard room,” he said. “And neither is a billiard table, for that matter.”
Cara and Ant started tussling, racing to be the first to reach the living room door, which had been labeled The Library. But Pip’s feet pulled her the other way, toward the stairs, Zach right on her heels. If she had actually heard something, it must have come from above the dining room. But what was it? They were home alone.
They climbed up, but at the top they broke apart, Zach heading off hesitantly toward Connor’s bedroom and Pip the other way, to the room that sat directly above the dining room. She knew that this room was Connor’s dad’s office, but the door told her that tonight it was Reginald Remy’s Study.
The door creaked as she pushed it open. It was dark in here, the blinds shutting out the last of the evening light. Her eyes adjusted to a room full of half-formed shadows. She’d never been inside this room before and she felt a prickle of unease up her neck; was she even allowed in here?
Pip could see the dark, hulking form of the desk against the far wall, and what must have been a swivel chair. But something wasn’t right. The chair was facing the wrong way, pointing toward her. And there was a shadow disrupting its clean outline. There was something in that chair. Or someone.
Pip felt her heart kick up in her chest as her fingers scaled the wall, searching for the light switch. She found it and flicked it, holding her breath.
The yellow light blinked on, filling in the shadows. Pip was right: there was someone slumped in that chair. And then her heart dropped, soured in her gut, and all she could see was the blood.
So much blood.