Updated: Oct 12, 2020
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The only other place I could think to look for Jerry was our room. I kept my eyes down as I cut through the parlor and great hall. As far as I was concerned, there was no reason to talk to any of these people ever again. I’d socialized enough for one year.
Before I reached the base of the grand staircase, I noticed that the air smelled like sweet tobacco smoke. I soon realized that the smell was coming from the front door. Now that I didn’t have a blade against my face, I could see the situation in front of me with much more clarity. It was obvious where Jerry had disappeared to. All I had to do was follow the smell of smoke. I pushed open the front door right as another crack of lightning filled the night sky.
The thunder ended, followed by a guilty-sounding “Heyyy, buddy.” It was Jerry. He and Tobias looked back at me from the porch railing, both equipped with lit cigars and half-empty glasses. Jerry held up his Montecristo Number Three and said, “It’s not what it looks like.”
“I don’t care.”
“Really?” he said, raising an eyebrow. "I think you do."
"Well, I don't."
"You do a little."
"Okay, agree to disagree then."
“You said you weren’t going to leave me alone.”
“I did say that. But then T-Bone here dropped his wallet. I had to come and give it back to him.”
“Oh, ‘T-Bone’ ‘dropped’ his wallet, did he?”
Tobias flicked his ash over the railing and said, “It must have fallen out of my jacket pocket.”
I was already over this conversation. “Tobias, I’m sorry to interrupt, but I need a moment alone with Jerry.”
“Sure. Go ahead. I’ll stay out here.”
“Actually, we’re going to need the patio to ourselves.”
He sipped his drink, darted his eyes back and forth between Jerry and me, then said, “Is this something time-sensitive? I’m only asking because I just lit this, and--”
I switched tactics. “Your wife was looking for you, Tobias.”
“Bridget’s looking for me? Why?”
“She spilt jam on her dress.”
“Jam?” Tobias asked incredulously.
“Yep,” I confirmed. “Jam. All over her dress. Just….all over it.”
“I didn’t even know they had jam in there.”
“Well, they don’t anymore.”
“So you’re saying--just so I understand the situation--not only did Bridget spill jam on her dress, but she somehow managed to spill the entire party’s supply of jam… on her dress?”
Jeez, what is this guy? The jam police? Jerry cleared his throat abruptly. It sounded an awful lot like a snicker he couldn’t hold back.
“Look, dude. I don’t know what to tell you. But I promise I would never lie about something like this. Your wife was devastated. She was crying and everything. Asked me to go find you.”
He cocked his head slightly and gave me a long, uncomfortable glare until Jerry stepped in. “Don’t worry T-Bone,” he said. “I’ll keep your cigar warm for you.”
Tobias finally surrendered. “Okay. I guess I’d better go make sure everything’s alright.” With that, he handed Jerry his cigar and walked past me.
The moment the door closed, Jerry asked, “Do you think I’d look good with a mullet?”
“No, of course not. Now shut up for a second and listen. I have a very serious question. Is there any chance you somehow orchestrated all of this as an extremely elaborate hoax just to give me a perverted sense of misadventure? Because if that’s the case, I really appreciate the impressive effort but would like to opt out now.”
“No, but damn that would have been a good idea! I’ll have to remember it for your birthday.”
“Please don’t. We need to leave. Pronto.”
He carefully placed Tobias’s cigar next to his own in the ashtray on the table by the railing. He didn’t have nearly the appropriate sense of urgency. With a smirk, he asked, “Did something ominous just happen?”
“The lady with the kleptomaniacal tween son knows my name. She said my luggage showed up in her room.”
“Well that’s convenient. And also quite alarming. Thank you for confiding in me.”
“Jerry, listen! While we were getting ready, somebody went out in the rain, found our car, broke in, packed a mother-flippin bag, and brought it back to the manor. Why would anyone do something like that?”
He leaned against the railing, put on his thinking face, and mulled it over for a few seconds before responding. “It must be because you said you needed your medicine in order to stay the night. So… That means two things. First, someone must not want us to have any reason to leave here tonight. And second… someone was watching us.”
“Great. Our room is bugged. I guess I can assume they have videos of me in the shower.”
“Oh.” Jerry’s eyes got alarmingly wide.
“I think I know what’s going on here.”
“Yeah, that’s definitely it.”
“You’re not going to like it.”
He cleared his throat, looked me dead in the eyes, and said, “I think we just stumbled into a sex cult.”
I waited for just a moment, as to not sound like a broken record. Then, “What?!”
“Think about it.”
“I will do no such thing, and you can’t make me!”
He lifted the glass to his mouth, but I slapped it out of his hand before he could take another drink. It shattered against the porch. “Hey!” he snapped.
“That could be poison for all we know!”
“Oh yeah,” he laughed. “Now that you mention it, it probably is.”
“Well? What are we waiting for? Let’s go!”