BEST SERVED COLD
The Crime

Sheryl Barker curved an eyebrow delicately at the looming mansion. "This…is seriously going to be where it's held?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Lawrence Wright demanded hotly. "I told you I was inviting you to a reunion, didn't I?"

"You did. However," the woman said wryly, "you did not mention that it would be in a mansion. In the middle of nowhere. Kilometres from civilisation. Where anything could happen."

"Oh, you." Lawrence chuckled at his friend. "You sound like you know a murder's about to happen."

"One can never be too careful, Lawrence." Sheryl shot back darkly, and her expression became sullen when the overcast skies finally caved into rain, and an ear-splitting boom heralded the beginning of a fierce thunderstorm. "I don't even know these people. Why am I even here?"

"Because you're my… plus one, I suppose." Lawrence answered thoughtfully. "Besides, you're like my best friend. We're besties." He attempted to lift the mood. "Aren't you glad to be here?"

"…no." Sheryl's expression was as flat as her answer.

Even the weather agreed.

The pair entered the mansion, to see the others already gathered in the foyer.

"Who's this?" Elizabeth Reeci gushed, grinning at Sheryl, who forced a politely interested look onto her face.

"Uh, this is Sheryl Barker, she's a good friend of mine." Lawrence introduced his friend. The phrase was quickly used to introduce Sheryl to the rest of the party:

Roger Nelson, a man who looked like he was scared of his own shadow, and jumped at every crack of thunder.

Mr Renway, a sad morose man who didn't look too interested in the party at all, and managed a listless greeting at Lawrence, despite not having seen any of his classmates for several years. Sheryl caught a glimpse of a photo of a woman, who she assumed to be his wife, in his wallet.

"Well, well, well," a new voice drawled, "who's the lady, Larry?"

"Ah, Heston!" Lawrence turned to the suited obese man coming down the spiral stairs. "Good to see you. I haven't seen you in so long!"

The two hugged – in a manly sort of way, of course – and Lawrence asked. "So, you own this place, huh?"

"Sure do." Heston Price grinned. "Remember what I said in high school about getting rich?"

When he was met with nods from his former schoolmates, the grin widened, "Well, I did. And here you are, standing in the results of my achievement."

"Impressive." Elizabeth, whose face was cheerful just moments before, darkened slightly. "Bet you worked real hard for that."

"Oh, come now, Elizabeth," Heston shook his head, "I haven't seen you, Roger or Lawrence in ten years. Let's not quarrel about the past, shall we?"

"Fine." Elizabeth scowled.

Unperturbed by Elizabeth's tone, Heston ushered the guests upstairs, showing each person to their room.

"Dinner will be in a little while," Heston told the guests, "at around seven o'clock, where we can all catch up. Until then, feel free to make yourselves comfortable and explore the mansion, though I wouldn't wander out into the woods after dark. I'll be back to get you guys at seven."

With that, Heston left the guests to their devices.

….

"Where the Dickens is he?" Roger muttered nervously, flinching as lightning illuminated the forest below. "Just because he's rich doesn't mean that he can afford to be late…"

"I'm sure he's just busy." Elizabeth bit her lip even as she talked. "I'm sure he has a good reason-"

"Like being rich?" Mr Renway supplied.

"Being rich isn't a good reason." Roger protested weakly. "Besides, money's not everything."

"Honestly, Roger Nelson, if I didn't know any better," Elizabeth placed her hands on her hips, "I'd say that you were jealous."

"Of what?" Mr Renway interjected. "Of a charismatic jerk?"

"A charismatic, not to mention rich, jerk, yes." Sheryl muttered under her breath before speaking aloud. "How long does it take for Lawrence to fetch Mr Price, anyway?"

In answer, a shriek of horror echoed through the stone walls of the mansion. Three of the dinner guests took off running towards the source of the noise while Roger, the last dinner guest, had been distracted with another bolt of lightning. By the time he turned around, the corridor of the guest wing was deserted.

"Uh…guys?"

….

Heston Price was dead.

Anyone with half a brain cell could see that, especially with the way the portly man's glassy eyes stared blankly at the ceiling above, and the way his chest did not rise and fall with the natural movement of breathing. Of course, even if one didn't notice all this, the blood soaking the mattress would have tipped anyone off.

"He's dead." Sheryl remarked rather unnecessarily as she pulled off her surgical gloves, and flung them to one side dramatically. "Murdered, to be precise."

Right on cue, the other dinner guests gasped.

"Oh my." Mr Renway murmured dimly, eyes wide with shock.

Elizabeth Rice clapped her hands to her mouth, and looked sick. "Who would commit such a crime?"

Lawrence, having gotten over his initial fright, asked the question on everyone's minds. "Isn't that what we'd all like to know?"

"Hey everyone," Roger finally found the other guests, "when's dinner-"

"Roger," Lawrence turned sharply, ready to stop the man from entering the room, "you don't need to see this-"

It was too late. The gangly guy, with one look at the blood splattered crime scene, stopped dead and stared, eyes bulging.

"Roger," Lawrence advised, "you need to breathe. Take deep breaths, and whatever you do, don't…"

Thump.

"…pass out." Lawrence finished sadly. "Ah well, things can't get any worse."

And then the lights went out.

END PART I